False Confidence

4 If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— 10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. – Philippians 3:4b-11 ESV

What does Paul mean by “confidence in the flesh?” Remember the context. He has just warned the believers in Philippi to “Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh” (Philippians 3:2 ESV). This was a direct broadside delivered against the Judaizers, a group made up of Jewish converts to Christianity who were attempting to bring the legalism associated with the Mosaic Law into the church. They were demanding that Gentile believers first be circumcised and then agree to keep the Jewish laws, religious festivals, and sacrificial requirements. In other words, they had to become Jews before they could be considered truly saved.

So, when Paul mentions having confidence in the flesh, he is stressing the teachings of this group. They believed that their human efforts, those things done in their own strength, somehow earned them favor with God. As Jews, they put a high priority and value on the rite of circumcision. It was an outward sign of their unique relationship as God’s chosen people. And they were of the strong opinion that circumcision was necessary for any and all who would hope to enjoy the salvation offered by Jesus Christ. But for Paul, this was nothing short of another gospel. It was a false gospel. And it was to be exposed for what it was: a dangerous heresy.

The Greek word Paul used for “flesh” is sarx and, while it was often used to refer to the actual physical body, it could also be used in a metaphorical sense, to refer to human nature. The Judaizers put a lot of stock in human nature and their own human abilities, believing that they were able to keep the laws of God and live up to the holy standards of God. But Paul rejects that mindset, stating that believers were to “glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh” (Philippians 3:3 ESV). Salvation was based on the work of Christ, not the works of men.

But Paul decides to take their argument and use it against them. He somewhat sarcastically paints a picture of what the kind of credentials that might earn someone favor with God would look like. And he uses himself as an example. Paul boldly states:

“If someone thinks he has good reasons to put confidence in human credentials, I have more…” – Philippians 3:4 NLT

It is as if Paul is saying, “So, you think you can earn a right standing with God based on your accomplishments and status? Well, check this out!”

What follows is a laundry list of Paul’s off-the-chart credentials.

  • He was a card-carrying member of the nation of Israel
  • He was from the tribe of Benjamin
  • He had been circumcised according to the Mosaic Law
  • He was a Hebrew of Hebrews (a hard-core traditionalist)
  • He had been a member of the Pharisees, an elite religious group
  • He had been a passionate and zealous persecutor of the church
  • He had been painstakingly dedicated to keeping the law

Look at that list and then consider who he was comparing himself with. He was placing himself in direct competition with the Judaizers. If they thought they were somehow better than everybody else because of their Jewish heritage and law-keeping ability, they had nothing on Paul. His resume made them look like third-string players trying to win a spot on the varsity squad.

But notice what Paul says next. He takes his list of accomplishments and credentials and describes them “as liabilities because of Christ” (Philippians 3:7 NLT). His relationship with Christ, based solely on faith in the work of Christ done on his behalf, made any of his so-called assets amount to nothing. They earned him no credibility with God and bought him no favor from God. Paul understood that his righteous deeds were of no value when it comes to his salvation. He firmly believed what the text in Isaiah clearly states:

We are all infected and impure with sin.
    When we display our righteous deeds,
    they are nothing but filthy rags. – Isaiah 64:6 NLT

Paul’s lofty list of accomplishments and personal assets were worthless. Which is why he could say, “I now regard all things as liabilities compared to the far greater value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Philippians 3:8 NLT). Rather than placing any stock in human nature or his ability to produce righteous-looking deeds, Paul saw those things as hindrances to his spiritual walk. They were liabilities. Because they were all tainted by sin. So, Paul had given them all up. He had decided to treat them like what they were: Liabilities, not assets. All so he could know Christ. And Paul gets a bit graphic in trying to describe his new relationship with those things he once held near and dear. They were like dung to him now, to be tossed aside and treated for what they were: worthless and detestable.

The bottom line for Paul was righteousness. A holy and righteous God demanded that His people live holy, righteous lives. But man’s sin nature made that impossible. And no amount of law-keeping, ritual-observing, or efforts at God-pleasing were going to make a difference. Paul states, “I have the righteousness that comes by way of Christ’s faithfulness—a righteousness from God that is in fact based on Christ’s faithfulness” (Philippians 3:9 NLT). In other words, Paul’s righteousness was not based on self-effort, but on Christ’s faithfulness. Jesus died a sinner’s death to satisfy the just demands of a holy and righteous God. As Paul explained to the Corinthian believers:

For our sake he [God] made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. – 2 Corinthians 5:21 ESV

And as Paul stated earlier in this letter, Jesus “humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8 ESV). His faithfulness to do the will of His Father resulted in righteousness for us.

The Judaizers were not right before God because they had been circumcised. They were not right before God because they were Jews. They could not claim a right standing before God because they kept the law. In fact, Paul vaporized that idea in his letter to the Galatians.

So it is clear that no one can be made right with God by trying to keep the law. For the Scriptures say, “It is through faith that a righteous person has life.” – Galatians 3:11 NLT

He said the same thing to the believers in Rome.

For no one can ever be made right with God by doing what the law commands. The law simply shows us how sinful we are. – Romans 3:20 NLT

We have no reason to boast. We have no ground on which to stand and from which to proclaim our own self-righteousness. Our righteousness is actually Christ’s righteousness imparted to us when we place our faith in Him. When Christ died on the cross, He paid in full the debt that was owed for sins of mankind. He died in our place, bearing the penalty we deserved. And that act justified us before God. He now sees us as righteous and just, not sinful and worthy of death. We have been cleansed by the blood of Christ. And with that thought in mind, Paul refocuses the attention of his readers on that which is really important. Not effort and earning, but the pursuit of an ongoing and always growing relationship with Jesus Christ.

My aim is to know him, to experience the power of his resurrection, to share in his sufferings, and to be like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead. – Philippians 3:10-11 NLT

Paul is not talking about cognitive knowledge. He’s not suggesting a purely academic understanding of who Jesus was and is. He is describing a deep and intimate relationship that features an ever-intensifying awareness of all that Jesus Christ has done and will do for him. In the immediate context, Paul wanted to experience all the power that Christ’s resurrection had made available to him. Jesus had been raised back to life by the power of the Holy Spirit, and each and every believer has that power living within them.

But Paul knew that the resurrection power he so desired to see is most often revealed in the context of suffering. Just as Jesus had to suffer and die before He could experience the resurrection, we will find ourselves suffering so that we might experience the resurrection power of God’s Spirit in our lives. Just as Jesus experienced humiliation before His glorification, so will we. And then, Paul reminds us, it will all end in death. The ultimate form of suffering we all face is our own physical deaths. But Paul wants us to remember that there is a resurrection of the dead. Death is not the end. It is really the beginning of something greater. And Paul told the believers in Corinth what they could expect when death finally came.

For our dying bodies must be transformed into bodies that will never die; our mortal bodies must be transformed into immortal bodies.

Then, when our dying bodies have been transformed into bodies that will never die, this Scripture will be fulfilled:

“Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” – I Corinthians 15:53-55 NLT

Why put confidence in the flesh? It’s of no value and will ultimately be left behind. And why put stock in our own worthiness before God? Without Christ, we have no righteousness of our own. As Paul told the Colossian believers, it all boils down to this: “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27 ESV).

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

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Unity in Diversity

27 Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, 28 and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God. 29 For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, 30 engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.

1 So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.Philippians 1:18-2:4 ESV

Paul has expressed his desire to return to Philippi one day, and he has let them know that, while he would prefer to die and be with the Lord, he was of the impression that he would eventually be released from his house arrest in Rome. And that would be a good thing. It would allow him to continue his ministry of the gospel and to continue to encourage all the churches he had played a role in starting.

But, at the moment, Paul’s greatest concern was the spiritual well-being of his brothers and sisters in Philippi. And while he knew they would rejoice over the thought of him returning to see them one day, he had more pressing matters in mind.  It would seem from the content of this next section of Paul’s letter, that there was some serious disunity taking place in the congregation in Philippi. Paul is going to stress the idea of oneness. Three times in eight verses, Paul will use the word, “one.” He longs to hear that they are “standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel” (Philippians 1:27 ESV).

Like any of the other churches of that day, the Philippian congregation was relatively new and trying to hold its own in the midst of a pagan and sometimes hostile culture.  They were constantly facing outside opposition. As a Roman colony, Philippi was filled with a plethora of false gods. One of the keys to Rome’s successful domination of the world was its willingness to accommodate and tolerate the gods of the nations they conquered. They allowed their subjects to continue the worship of their own particular deity(s). While this policy of tolerance made the management of Rome’s far-flung empire with its ethnically and religiously diverse populations much easier, it could also create an atmosphere of polarization and antagonism. In the atmosphere of forced pluralism, each group would go out of its way to maintain the distinctives of its religious traditions, resulting in a culture of conflict and competition.

And here was this fledgling congregation of relatively new believers trying to hold its own in an atmosphere that favored religious pluralism but actually fostered intolerance and open hostility. Christians were the new kids on the block. They were usually unwelcome and misunderstood. Some viewed them as a sect of Judaism, while others tried to portray them as a dangerous cult. And, each and every one of the members of the Philippian congregation would have been a convert to Christianity from some other and much older faith system. In accepting Christ as Savior, they had turned their backs on their former religion and, in doing so, alienated friends and family members who still held firmly to that ideology.

For Christians living in the 1st-Century, coming to faith in Christ was about much more than a decision to accept Jesus as their Savior. It could be an extremely risky and potentially deadly choice that had long-term and life-altering implications. And no one understood this better than Paul. His relationship with Christ had cost him dearly. And in his second letter to the believers in Corinth, Paul outlined all that he had suffered as a result of his faith.

Five different times the Jewish leaders gave me thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked. Once I spent a whole night and a day adrift at sea. I have traveled on many long journeys. I have faced danger from rivers and from robbers. I have faced danger from my own people, the Jews, as well as from the Gentiles. I have faced danger in the cities, in the deserts, and on the seas. And I have faced danger from men who claim to be believers but are not.[c] I have worked hard and long, enduring many sleepless nights. I have been hungry and thirsty and have often gone without food. I have shivered in the cold, without enough clothing to keep me warm. – 2 Corinthians 11:24-27 NLT

Being a follower of Christ was not easy. And Paul knew that the key to the Philippian church’s survival was going to be their unity. They had to see themselves as a family. They were in this together. And they needed to see themselves as distinct and different from the culture around them. Which is why he pleads with them to “live as citizens of heaven” and to conduct themselves “in a manner worthy of the Good News about Christ” (Philippians 1:27 NLT). This was a corporate call, addressing the entire congregation, not individual believers. They were to do this together, not alone. Their display of unity in the face of adversity and hostility would strengthen their faith and spread the news of the life-transformative nature of the gospel. That this diverse group of people from all walks of life and a variety of religious backgrounds could live together with one mind and one spirit would be a testimony to the power of the gospel.

And Paul commends them for “standing together with one spirit and one purpose, fighting together for the faith, which is the Good News” (Philippians 1:27 NLT). He has heard of their unity, but he knows that the enemy is always seeking to divide and conquer. They must not allow that to happen. Paul flatly states, “Don’t be intimidated in any way by your enemies” (Philippians 1:28 NLT). There were outside forces pressing in on this young congregation and Paul wanted them to remain unified in their love for one another and their commitment to the cause of Christ. This unwavering display of oneness in the face of opposition would be proof of the ultimate victory Christ-followers will enjoy. As Jesus told promised Peter, “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18 ESV).

Suffering was going to be a normal part of their faith experience. In fact, Paul tells them that they should see their suffering as a privilege, on equal footing with the privilege of trusting in Christ. For Paul, suffering was a necessary part of salvation. It came with the territory. And a bit further on in his letter, Paul will boldly declare, “I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. I want to suffer with him, sharing in his death” (Philippians 3:10 NLT). This was not an isolated statement by Paul. He held this view throughout his life and shared it frequently. To the believers in Rome he wrote: “if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering” (Romans 8:17 NLT). He told the Colossian church, “I am glad when I suffer for you in my body, for I am participating in the sufferings of Christ that continue for his body, the church” (Colossians 1:24 NLT). And the apostle Peter shared Paul’s sentiments regarding suffering.

…be very glad – for these trials make you partners with Christ in his suffering, so that you will have the wonderful joy of seeing his glory when it is revealed to all the world.  – 1 Peter 4:13 NLT

Paul viewed the Christian life as a struggle. It was not meant to be easy. We are aliens living in a strange land. We are emissaries for the King and have been sent to declare the message of His Kingdom to a world that stands opposed to Him. We have the good news regarding Jesus Christ, but the majority of those with whom we share it will find it repulsive and simply reject it. And they will reject the messengers as well.

So, in order to survive in this hostile environment, we will need to remain unified and share a single-minded commitment to our mutual mission as the body of Christ. With all that the believers in Philippi were facing, Paul wanted them to understand that their shared faith in Christ had real value. Which is why he states, “if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy” (Philippians 2:1 ESV). Paul is not raising doubts concerning the efficacy of faith in Christ, he is doing just the opposite. There IS encouragement in Christ. There IS comfort that comes from Christ-like love. There IS real value in living together in the power of the Holy Spirit. There IS true affection and sympathy to be found in this thing called the body of Christ.

But all of this is available only when believers choose to accept the non-negotiable reality of their role as members of that body. Which is why Paul encourages the Philippian believers to be, “of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind” (Philippians 2:2 ESV). There was no place for selfishness or self-centeredness in the body of Christ. Pride was out of bounds and of no value. Conceit and ego were to be seen as deadly to unity.

In order to survive and thrive, the believers in Philippi were going to have to have a different kind of attitude about life. It was going to require a counter-cultural take on what it means to succeed in life. And, just so they don’t miss what he means, Paul spells it out for them.

Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too. – Philippians 2:4 NLT

And in the very next verse, Paul will provide them with the key to pulling all this off. It will not be accomplished in their own strength or according to their own standards of humility and unity. Christ is to be our model for living in Christ-likeness. He sets the standard for what it means to “live as citizens of heaven.”

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Here I Am!

1 I was ready to be sought by those who did not ask for me;
    I was ready to be found by those who did not seek me.
I said, “Here I am, here I am,”
    to a nation that was not called by my name.
I spread out my hands all the day
    to a rebellious people,
who walk in a way that is not good,
    following their own devices;
a people who provoke me
    to my face continually,
sacrificing in gardens
    and making offerings on bricks;
who sit in tombs,
    and spend the night in secret places;
who eat pig’s flesh,
    and broth of tainted meat is in their vessels;
who say, “Keep to yourself,
    do not come near me, for I am too holy for you.”
These are a smoke in my nostrils,
    a fire that burns all the day.
Behold, it is written before me:
    “I will not keep silent, but I will repay;
I will indeed repay into their lap
    both your iniquities and your fathers’ iniquities together,
says the Lord;
because they made offerings on the mountains
    and insulted me on the hills,
I will measure into their lap
    payment for their former deeds.”
Isaiah 65:1-7 ESV

Isaiah has prayed. Now, God responds. And the first thing God does is leave the people of Judah without excuse. Ever since the creation of the world, God has made Himself known to all mankind, not just the people of Israel.  The apostle Paul drives home this point in his letter to the Romans.

For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. – Romans 1:19-20 ESV

And Paul goes on to conclude, “So they are without excuse.” God revealed His invisible attributes to mankind, but they chose to worship the creation rather than its Creator. So, God would later reveal Himself to Abraham, calling him out of Ur and directing him to the land of Canaan. Abraham was given a greater revelation of God, beyond that which the rest of the world had enjoyed. And God even made a covenant with Abraham, promising to create from him a great nation, the people of whom would occupy the land of Canaan for generations. And God fulfilled that promise, and by the time Isaiah wrote the book that bears his name, the descendants of Abraham had been living in the land for centuries. But as we have seen, although God had continued to give His chosen people further revelations of Himself through His law and the sacrificial system, their behavior made it appear that they didn’t know Him at all.

And in the opening verse of this chapter, God indicates that He had a purpose behind His decision to make the nation of Israel His precious possession. When He had given them the law, God had told them that if they obeyed it, “you will be my own special treasure from among all the peoples on earth; for all the earth belongs to me. And you will be my kingdom of priests, my holy nation” (Exodus 19:5-6 NLT). Notice that they were to have been his own special treasure from among all the peoples of the earth.  They were to have been His priests, representing Him before all the peoples of the earth. They were to have been His holy, set-apart nation among all the people of the earth. In other words, they were to have been witnesses to the nations of what it looks like to have a right relationship with the Creator-God of the universe.

But they had proven to be lousy priests and poor witnesses. Rather than bringing God glory by living holy lives, they had profaned His name among the nations, leaving God the job of reclaiming the glory His name deserves.

“I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them.” Ezekiel 36:23 ESV

And in verse one, God indicates that He has been calling out to the nations, “Here I am, here I am.” He has been extending an invitation to all the nations “not called by my name,” and the people of Israel had been His chosen means of communicating that message. The apostle Paul used this very passage to let the Gentile believers in Rome understand that God had always intended to use the people of Israel as His means of sharing His grace and mercy with the world. Paul will repeatedly quote from the book of Isaiah to build his case that God’s plan in choosing Israel had far greater implications than just their personal enjoyment of His blessings. God had something much grander in mind.

But not everyone welcomes the Good News, for Isaiah the prophet said, “Lord, who has believed our message?” So faith comes from hearing, that is, hearing the Good News about Christ. But I ask, have the people of Israel actually heard the message? Yes, they have:

“The message has gone throughout the earth,
    and the words to all the world.”

But I ask, did the people of Israel really understand? Yes, they did, for even in the time of Moses, God said,

“I will rouse your jealousy through people who are not even a nation.
    I will provoke your anger through the foolish Gentiles.”

And later Isaiah spoke boldly for God, saying,

“I was found by people who were not looking for me.
    I showed myself to those who were not asking for me.”

But regarding Israel, God said,

“All day long I opened my arms to them,
    but they were disobedient and rebellious.” – Romans 10:16-21 NLT

Don’t miss the significance of what Paul is saying here. The very people whom God had chosen to be His means of reaching a lost world had to be constantly invited by God to come back to Him. Rather than doing what He had called them to do, they had proven to be disobedient and rebellious. And God describes their rebellion as anything but subtle. They flaunted it in His face, worshiping false gods right in front of Him. They had disregarded His laws concerning sacrifice, offering inappropriate and unclean gifts in unacceptable ways. They practiced necromancy, a form of divination through attempted communication with the dead. They were guilty of involvement in the occult and witchcraft. Their unholy actions had left them an unholy people, no longer set apart for God and no longer able to be His witnesses to a lost world.

All their religious activity will leave them feeling puffed and prideful. And while they will brag about their holiness, God describes them in less-than-flattering terms.

These people are a stench in my nostrils,
    an acrid smell that never goes away. – Isaiah 65:5 NLT

God finds all their religiosity repulsive. While He had been calling out to them with open arms, they had been embracing false gods and pursuing other loves. And the apostle Paul tells us what happens to all those who replace a personal relationship with God with religion.

They will act religious, but they will reject the power that could make them godly. – 2 Timothy 3:5 NLT

They were religious but lacked the one thing God was looking for: godliness. Their actions failed to reflect their status as His chosen people. So, God was obligated to punish them for their rebellion. He could not and would not allow them to continue to drag His name through the mud. Their disobedience demanded His divine discipline. And when God says, “Behold, it is written before me,” He is referring to the covenant He had made with them. There was a legally binding agreement between God and His people that spelled out their obligations and His. It clearly articulated what God expected of them and what He would do if they kept or broke their part of the covenant. And while they had failed to do what they said they would do, God would prove faithful to His covenant promise. He vows to bring upon them all the curses He had warned them about.

“I will not keep silent, but I will repay;
I will indeed repay into their lap
   both your iniquities and your fathers’ iniquities together.” – Isaiah 65:6-7 ESV

It is important to remember that God had warned them what would happen if they failed to be His priests and His holy nation. He had let them know well in advance what the ramifications would be if they failed to be His witness to the nations. They would end up scattered among the nations, worshiping gods they never knew before.

For the Lord will scatter you among all the nations from one end of the earth to the other. There you will worship foreign gods that neither you nor your ancestors have known, gods made of wood and stone! There among those nations, you will find no peace or place to rest. And the Lord will cause your heart to tremble, your eyesight to fail, and your soul to despair. Your life will constantly hang in the balance. You will live night and day in fear, unsure if you will survive. – Deuteronomy 28:64-64 NLT

They would lose their witness. Their role as a light to the nations would fade because they had failed to remain faithful to the call of God. But as we have seen all along in the book of Isaiah, God would remain faithful to them because He had plans to bring salvation to the world through them. Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world, would be born as a Jew and would become the Priest who lived a perfectly holy life and offered a perfectly holy sacrifice on behalf of the sins of all mankind.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Suffering Servant

1 Who has believed what he has heard from us?
    And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
For he grew up before him like a young plant,
    and like a root out of dry ground;
he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
    and no beauty that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by men,
    a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces
    he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

Surely he has borne our griefs
    and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
    smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions;
    he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
    and with his wounds we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
    we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
    the iniquity of us all.

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
    yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
    and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
    so he opened not his mouth.
By oppression and judgment he was taken away;
    and as for his generation, who considered
that he was cut off out of the land of the living,
    stricken for the transgression of my people?
And they made his grave with the wicked
    and with a rich man in his death,
although he had done no violence,
    and there was no deceit in his mouth.

10 Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him;
    he has put him to grief;
when his soul makes an offering for guilt,
    he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days;
the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.
11 Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied;
by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,
    make many to be accounted righteous,
    and he shall bear their iniquities.
12 Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many,
    and he shall divide the spoil with the strong,
because he poured out his soul to death
    and was numbered with the transgressors;
yet he bore the sin of many,
    and makes intercession for the transgressors. Isaiah 53:1-12 ESV

This is, arguably, one of the most significant chapters in the entire Bible. It actually extends from verse 13 of the previous chapter and provides an amazing portrait of the suffering servant: Jesus Christ. Chapter 53 of Isaiah is quoted by the New Testament authors more than any other section of Scripture. And you can see why they aligned themselves with this remarkable section of God’s Word, because in it is contained the quinticential description of Jesus as the suffering servant of God.

For anyone familiar with the New Testament account of Jesus’s life, it would be difficult to read this chapter in Isaiah and not see a clear and compelling portrait of the Jesus and His crucifixion. He is described as being marred in appearance, despised, rejected, pierced, crushed, wounded, oppressed, afflicted, and burdened with the sins of mankind. The amount of detail provided in these verses is difficult to fathom, when you consider that Isaiah penned these words more than seven centuries before Jesus appeared on the scene.

The descriptions of Jesus in this passage are far from flattering. He is portrayed as a yowneq, which is the Hebrew word for a small shoot or suckling. It refers to a small sprout that appears after a tree has been cut down. It is an unexpected shoot that appears out of nowhere in dry ground because of the presence on an unseen root. Isaiah referred to this aspect of Jesus earlier in his book.

There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse,
    and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. – Isaiah 11:1 ESV

In that chapter, Isaiah describes Jesus, the shoot, as having power and authority. He will come as a conquering King, not a suffering servant.

…and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth,
    and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.
Righteousness shall be the belt of his waist,
    and faithfulness the belt of his loins. – Isaiah 11:4-5 ESV

In that day the root of Jesse, who shall stand as a signal for the peoples—of him shall the nations inquire, and his resting place shall be glorious.

In that day the Lord will extend his hand yet a second time to recover the remnant that remains of his people. – Isaiah 11:10-11 ESV

But the Jesus of Isaiah 53 is quite different. The Jesus who came to earth as a man, in His incarnate form, was anything but beautiful and physically impressive. In fact, Isaiah says, “There was nothing beautiful or majestic about his appearance, nothing to attract us to him” (Isaiah 53:2 NLT). He didn’t have a charismatic personality, come from an influential family or wield  a lot of power.  Born in relative obscurity in the town of Bethlehem, Jesus spent His childhood in the backwater town of Nazareth. He was the adopted son of a lowly tradesman, and spent the early years of His adulthood living at home and working alongside His father.

And even when Jesus began His earthly ministry, He would do so without a lot of fanfare or noteriety. And while He received the glowing endorsement of His Heavenly Father at the commencement of His ministry, things did not end well for Him. Isaiah describes Him as “despised and rejected—a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief” (Isaiah 53:3 NLT). During the 3-1/2 years of His earthly ministry, Jesus encountered far more rejection than He did acceptance. The Jewish religious leaders hated Him with a passion. The majority of the Jewish nation, while enamored with His miracles and amazed by His teaching, would end up rejecting His claims to be their long-awaited Messish.

And Isaiah fast-forwards into the closing days of Jesus’ earthly existence, describing events associated with His eventual trials and crucifixion. Speaking in the past-tense, Isaiah says the suffering servant, “has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows” (Isaiah 53:4 ESV). The Jewish people believed that Jesus died for His own sins. He was accused by the Pharisees of blasphemy because He had claimed to be God. And the Jews “thought his troubles were a punishment from God” (Isaiah 53:4 NLT). But Isaiah clears up the confusion, declaring that Jesus “was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins. He was beaten so we could be whole. He was whipped so we could be healed” (Isaiah 53:5 NLT). Don’t miss the significance of this verse. It was written hundreds of years before Jesus was even born and yet, it perfectly describes the details associated with the crucifixion of Jesus.

And, just in case we miss his point, Isaiah stresses that Jesus died because of our sins, not His own.

Yet the Lord laid on him
    the sins of us all. – Isaiah 53:6 ESV

Men were the ones guilty of straying from God, walking away from His love and faithfulness. And yet, Jesus was the one who died in their place. And like an innocent sheep being led to the slaughter, Jesus didn’t utter a word in His own defense. Mark describes the fulfillment of this prophecy in his gospel account.

Then the high priest stood up before the others and asked Jesus, “Well, aren’t you going to answer these charges? What do you have to say for yourself?” But Jesus was silent and made no reply. – Mark 14:60-61 NLT

Jesus would end up unjustly condemned, sentenced to death, and stripped of life, without a single descendant. His life was cut short, having done nothing to deserve the death He suffered. And He would suffer the ignominy of having to be buried in a borrowed tomb. The gospel writers provide us with the fulfillment of this prophecy when they describe Joseph of Arimathea asking Pilate for the right to bury the body of Jesus in his own tomb.

And Isaiah delivers the amazing part of this entire story. The death of the suffering servant was all the plan of God Almighty. It had been the will of God from the very beginning.

Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him – Isaiah 53:10 ESV

None of what happened to Jesus took place outside the divine will of God. It had all been a part of His sovereign plan. God had a method to His seeming madness. What Isaiah is describing had to have sounded farfetched and difficult to understand from the perspectives of the Jews in his audience. Why in the world would God do something so heinous to His own servant? What could be remotely redeeming about any of this? And the answer would be, “Everything.” The suffering servant would eventually recognize the wisdom behind God’s plan.

When he sees all that is accomplished by his anguish,
    he will be satisfied.
And because of his experience,
    my righteous servant will make it possible
for many to be counted righteous,
    for he will bear all their sins. – Isaiah 53:11 ESV

One of the truly amazing things about this passage is its undeniable accuracy. So much of what we read in these verses was fulfilled in the life and ministry of Jesus. He lived out these verses to the smallest detail. And because of His obedience to the will of God, Jesus was exalted.

I will give him the honors of a victorious soldier,
    because he exposed himself to death.
He was counted among the rebels.
    He bore the sins of many and interceded for rebels. – Isaiah 53:12 NLT

Jesus hung on the cross, bracketed by the two “rebels” who were crucified on either side of Him. And Jesus went to that cross willingly, not begrudgingly. The apostle Paul describes what happened because of Jesus’ willing submission to His Father’s redemptive plan for mankind.

…he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. – Philippians 2:8-11 NLT

The people of Judah were facing the prospect of some intense suffering, all as a part of God’s will concerning them. And God wants them to realize that this plan was to be embraced, not rejected. Like the suffering servant, they were to trust God for their future and submit to His will. If they would only listen, they would be exalted at just the right time. God’s will for Jesus included suffering and, eventually, death. But it also included exaltation and glory. God always has a purpose behind His actions. And while the people of Judah were having a difficult time understanding why God was bringing His judgment on them, He wanted them to rest in His sovereign will for them.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Your God Reigns!

1 Awake, awake,
    put on your strength, O Zion;
put on your beautiful garments,
    O Jerusalem, the holy city;
for there shall no more come into you
    the uncircumcised and the unclean.
Shake yourself from the dust and arise;
    be seated, O Jerusalem;
loose the bonds from your neck,
    O captive daughter of Zion.

For thus says the Lord: “You were sold for nothing, and you shall be redeemed without money.” For thus says the Lord God: “My people went down at the first into Egypt to sojourn there, and the Assyrian oppressed them for nothing. Now therefore what have I here,” declares the Lord, “seeing that my people are taken away for nothing? Their rulers wail,” declares the Lord, “and continually all the day my name is despised. Therefore my people shall know my name. Therefore in that day they shall know that it is I who speak; here I am.”

How beautiful upon the mountains
    are the feet of him who brings good news,
who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness,
    who publishes salvation,
    who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”
The voice of your watchmen—they lift up their voice;
    together they sing for joy;
for eye to eye they see
    the return of the Lord to Zion.
Break forth together into singing,
    you waste places of Jerusalem,
for the Lord has comforted his people;
    he has redeemed Jerusalem.
10 The Lord has bared his holy arm
    before the eyes of all the nations,
and all the ends of the earth shall see
    the salvation of our God.

11 Depart, depart, go out from there;
    touch no unclean thing;
go out from the midst of her; purify yourselves,
    you who bear the vessels of the Lord.
12 For you shall not go out in haste,
    and you shall not go in flight,
for the Lord will go before you,
    and the God of Israel will be your rear guard.

13 Behold, my servant shall act wisely;
    he shall be high and lifted up,
    and shall be exalted.
14 As many were astonished at you—
    his appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance,
    and his form beyond that of the children of mankind—
15 so shall he sprinkle many nations.
    Kings shall shut their mouths because of him,
for that which has not been told them they see,
    and that which they have not heard they understand. Isaiah 52:1-15 ESV

There are times in life when it is difficult to imagine God sitting on His throne and ruling in unparalleled power and sovereignty. We look at the circumstances surrounding us and see no signs of His presence or power. The world appears to be in a state of chaos. The enemies of God seem to hold the upper hand. Righteousness looks as if it is on the wane, while wickedness spreads like a cancer through the land. Immorality runs rampant and injustice prevails. People call good evil and evil good. And, it appears as if God is going nothing about. Either because He can’t or because He doesn’t care.

But Isaiah 52 extends to the people of God, in every generation, a much-needed wake up call. This particular message is directed at Zion, the holy mountain upon which the city of Jerusalem sat. It is a call to the people of Judah, but it is timeless in nature. The situation in which they found themselves was unique to them but, at the same time, universal. They were facing difficult days and wrestling with strong feelings of doubt regarding God’s involvement in their circumstances. Which is why, in chapter 51, they had extended their own wake up call to God.

Wake up, wake up, O Lord! Clothe yourself with strength!
    Flex your mighty right arm!
Rouse yourself as in the days of old
    when you slew Egypt, the dragon of the Nile. – Isaiah 51:9 NLT

From their vantage point, it appeared that God was the one who had fallen asleep on the job. The evidence was all around them that God had either abandoned them or simply forgotten all about them. But their perspective was skewed and their conclusion was wrong. Not only was God there, He cared, and He was going to act on their behalf. But, as we have seen, His intervention into their difficulties was going to be on His schedule and according to His divine plan, not theirs. He knew what was best and He was going to do what needed to be done at just the right time – no sooner or later. And, they were going to have to trust Him.

Salvation comes easy to God. It requires no effort on His part. He doesn’t even break a sweat. Which is why He told the prophet, Jeremiah, “I am the LORD, the God of all the peoples of the world. Is anything too hard for me?” (Jeremiah 32:27 NLT). Which is the same thing God said to Abraham when Sarah had laughed at His announcement that she would bear a son, in spite of her barrenness

“Is anything too hard for the LORD? I will return about this time next year, and Sarah will have a son.” – Genesis 18:14 NLT

It is the same message Jesus conveyed to His disciples when they had asked Him, “Who then can be saved?” He responded, ““With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26 ESV).

The problems facing the people of Judah were not a problem for God. In fact, He is the one who had sovereignly ordained each and every circumstance in which they found themselves. The Assyrians and Babylonians had been instruments in His hands. The fall of Judah to the Babylonians had been His doing. Their 70 years of captivity were part of His divine plan for them. And, just as God had found it quite easy to bring His judgment upon the people of Judah, He would find it just as easy to bring about their salvation. The 800-pound gorilla in the room was not God’s lack of power, but the peoples’ lack of faith. They didn’t trust God.

Now, God addresses the people of Judah in their captive state – in the midst of one of darkest days of their corporate history.

Remove the chains of slavery from your neck,
    O captive daughter of Zion.
For this is what the Lord says:
“When I sold you into exile,
    I received no payment.
Now I can redeem you
    without having to pay for you.” – Isaiah 52:2-3 NLT

Just as no one had forced God to sell the people of Judah into slavery, no one would coerce or bribe Him to redeem them. He would act according to His own divine will.

The truth was, that the people of God had a track record of finding themselves in difficult situations. Generations earlier, Jacob and his family had willingly sought shelter in Egypt, in an attempt to escape the famine in Canaan. But they ended up enslaved to the Egyptians and had to be rescued by God. Centuries later, when they had occupied the land, they found themselves harassed by the Assyrians, and the northern kingdom of Israel was defeated and deported as slaves.

And hundreds of years later, the southern kingdom of Judah would find itself living in captivity in Babylon, enslaved once again and crying out in despair. Their captors would mock the name of God, declaring their false gods to be superior in strength. And even the Jews would end up blaspheming the name of God by failing to trust in His word and rely on His covenant faithfulness. Their wailing and moaning would be a visible sign of their lack of faith. And yet, God tells them:

“But I will reveal my name to my people, and they will come to know its power. Then at last they will recognize that I am the one who speaks to them.” – Isaiah 52:6 NLT

And the following verses contain a powerful song of praise from the lips of Isaiah as he considers the incredible nature of God’s promise of redemption.

How beautiful upon the mountains
    are the feet of him who brings good news,
who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness,
    who publishes salvation,
    who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.” Isaiah 52:7 ESV

Don’t miss what Isaiah is saying here. The key to the salvation of God’s people was the fact that God reigns. He is in complete control of all things. He is the ruler over all the earth. He is final determiner of all that happens. God is not only powerful, He is ALL powerful. And, as far as Isaiah is concerned, the salvation of the Lord is as good as done because He reigns over all.

The Lord has bared his holy arm
    before the eyes of all the nations,
and all the ends of the earth shall see
    the salvation of our God. – Isaiah 52:10 ESV

God would one day return a remnant of the people of Judah from their captivity in Babylon. But there is an even greater deliverance foreshadowed here. This passage predicts an even more remarkable day when the people of God experience release from their captivity to sin. Look back on verse 7 and consider the significance of what is conveyed in its words.

How beautiful on the mountains
    are the feet of the messenger who brings good news,
the good news of peace and salvation,
    the news that the God of Israel reigns!

Now fast forward to Paul’s letter to the Romans. He picks up on this very same passage when addressing the Roman believers about their need to share the good news of Jesus Christ with the lost in their community.

But how can they call on him to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them? And how will anyone go and tell them without being sent? That is why the Scriptures say, “How beautiful are the feet of messengers who bring good news!”

But not everyone welcomes the Good News, for Isaiah the prophet said, “Lord, who has believed our message?” So faith comes from hearing, that is, hearing the Good News about Christ. – Romans 10:14-17 ESV

The release of the people of Judah from their physical captivity in Babylon did nothing to restore their broken relationship with God. They remained stubbornly unfaithful and persistently inconsistent in their obedience to and worship of Him. Sin still plagued their lives. Immorality and injustice remained a constant part of their individual and corporate existence.

But one day, God would send His Son to remedy their true problem: Their slavery to sin. And, He would do it by sending His Son. In the closing verses of this chapter, Isaiah is given a vision of the coming Messiah, God’s servant who “shall be high and lifted up,  and shall be exalted” (Isaiah 52:13 ESV). In these three verses we have a prophecy concerning Jesus and His incarnation, crucifixion and ultimate glorification, as described so eloquently by the apostle Paul.

…being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. – Philippians 2:8-11 ESV

Jesus Christ, the Son of God and the Savior of the world, came to earth in order to provide sinful mankind with a means by which they might be restored to a right relationship with God the Father. It required His death. It also demanded His resurrection and ascension. And it will include His eventual return to earth to consummate God’s redemptive plan for the earth and for His people, Israel. And all of this will take place because our God reigns, whether we see it, believe it, or place our trust in it.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Suffering Servant and Victorious Savior

1 Listen to me, O coastlands,
    and give attention, you peoples from afar.
The Lord called me from the womb,
    from the body of my mother he named my name.
He made my mouth like a sharp sword;
    in the shadow of his hand he hid me;
he made me a polished arrow;
    in his quiver he hid me away.
And he said to me, “You are my servant,
    Israel, in whom I will be glorified.”[
But I said, “I have labored in vain;
    I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity;
yet surely my right is with the Lord,
    and my recompense with my God.”

And now the Lord says,
    he who formed me from the womb to be his servant,
to bring Jacob back to him;
    and that Israel might be gathered to him—
for I am honored in the eyes of the Lord,
    and my God has become my strength—
he says:
“It is too light a thing that you should be my servant
    to raise up the tribes of Jacob
    and to bring back the preserved of Israel;
I will make you as a light for the nations,
    that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”

Thus says the Lord,
    the Redeemer of Israel and his Holy One,
to one deeply despised, abhorred by the nation,
    the servant of rulers:
“Kings shall see and arise;
    princes, and they shall prostrate themselves;
because of the Lord, who is faithful,
    the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you.” Isaiah 49:1-7 ESV

These opening verses of chapter 49 continue the theme of God’s redemption of Israel. The day was coming when He would use His servant, Cyrus, to release the people of Judah from their captivity in Babylon and allow them to return to the land of Canaan. At that time, a remnant of God’s people would experience their physical restoration to the land, the pleasure of occupying the rebuilt city of Jerusalem, and the joy of taking part in the revitalized sacrificial system in the restored temple. But this chapter reveals an even greater restoration that has yet to take place. And it will be the result of the efforts on another one of God’s servants.

The opening verses are spoken from the lips this as-yet-to-revealed individual, and he proclaims himself to the hand-picked servant of God.

“The Lord called me from the womb,
    from the body of my mother he named my name.” – Isaiah 49:1 ESV

This should recall the encounter between Joseph and the angel Gabriel, recorded in the Gospel of Matthew.

“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us). – Matthew 1:23 ESV

Gabriel had also met with Mary, long before she was pregnant, and informed of what was about to take place.

“Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” – Luke 1:30-33 ESV

And earlier in this book, Isaiah recorded details concerning the birth of this servant.

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. – Isaiah 9:6 ESV

And, in an interesting bit of self-disclosure, the servant refers to himself as Israel, claiming that God had referred to him in that way.

And he said to me, “You are my servant,
    Israel, in whom I will be glorified.” – Isaiah 49:3 ESV

Why would God call this servant, Israel. If, as the two gospels indicate, this servant is Jesus and His name was to be Immanuel, Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace, why does God now refer to Him as Israel? It would seem that God saw Jesus as the embodiment of all that Israel should have been. Like Israel, Jesus would be, in a sense, the offspring of God. His earthly birth would make Him a Son of the Most High. But, unlike Israel, Jesus would prove to be perfectly obedient to His Father. Paul refers to His obedience when he writes, “being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8 ESV). Jesus did what Israel had failed to do. Remain faithful to God and obedient to all His commands.

Jesus would bring glory to God through His earthly life and ministry. He would do the will of God, proclaiming the gospel message and manifesting the power of God through His miracles and messages. But from all appearances, the ministry of Jesus would appear unfruitful and highly unsuccessful.

“But my work seems so useless!
    I have spent my strength for nothing and to no purpose.
Yet I leave it all in the Lord’s hand;
    I will trust God for my reward.” – Isaiah 49:4 NLT

And John confirms the seeming failure of Jesus’ earthly ministry.

He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. – John 1:10-11 ESV

But Jesus was God’s servant and, as such, He had a job to do. Just a few verses earlier, Isaiah recorded the agenda given by God to Jesus.

“Behold my servant, whom I uphold,
    my chosen, in whom my soul delights;
I have put my Spirit upon him;
    he will bring forth justice to the nations.
He will not cry aloud or lift up his voice,
    or make it heard in the street;
    a bruised reed he will not break,
    and a faintly burning wick he will not quench;
    he will faithfully bring forth justice.
He will not grow faint or be discouraged
    till he has established justice in the earth;
    and the coastlands wait for his law.” – Isaiah 42:1-5 ESV

This portion of Jesus’ ministry agenda has an as-yet-fulfilled aspect to it. He has not yet established His righteous rule on earth or ushered in perfect, undiluted justice. But the day is coming when He will.

And the servant reveals that His job description has been given to Him by God Himself, the very one who formed Him in Mary’s womb. Jesus took on human flesh for one reason only, to become the substitutionary atonement for the sins of mankind. He had to become a man in order that He might die on behalf of men. You might say that Jesus was born to die. But His death had a purpose: “to bring Jacob back to him [the Lord]; and that Israel might be gathered to him [the Lord]” (Isaiah 49:5 ESV). Paul reminds us that, “Christ died for us so that … we can live with him forever”(1 Thessalonians 5:10 NLT). But the redemption of lost Gentiles was only part of plan. Jesus also died so that His own people, the people of Israel, might be one day restored to a right relationship with their God. The servant makes it clear that His God-ordained purpose was to bring Jacob or Israel back to God. And in his letter to the Romans, Paul makes it clear that God will one day restore His chosen people to a right relationship to Him.

Some of the people of Israel have hard hearts, but this will last only until the full number of Gentiles comes to Christ. And so all Israel will be saved. As the Scriptures say,

“The one who rescues will come from Jerusalem,
    and he will turn Israel away from ungodliness.
And this is my covenant with them,
    that I will take away their sins.” – Romans 11:11:25-27 NLT

And all of this will be accomplished through the efforts of Jesus Christ on Israel’s behalf. He will “raise up the tribes of Jacob” and and “bring back the preserved of Israel” (Isaiah 49:6 ESV). And, not only that, Jesus will be “a light for the nations,” so that God’s plan of salvation “may reach to the end of the earth” (Isaiah 49:6 ESV).

But before any of this happens, Jesus would become “one deeply despised, abhorred by the nation, the servant of rulers” (Isaiah 49:7 ESV). He would be humiliated and rejected long before He experienced His glorification and restoration to His Father’s side. But the day is coming when Jesus returns and God paints a very different picture of that occasion.

“Kings shall see and arise;
    princes, and they shall prostrate themselves;
because of the Lord, who is faithful,
    the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you.” – Isaiah 49:7 ESV

The servant will one day receive the same worship Isaiah describes as being given to God, because He is the Son of God, the Messiah and Savior of the world. He is the suffering servant who will become the conquering King.

“Let all the world look to me for salvation!
    For I am God; there is no other.
I have sworn by my own name;
    I have spoken the truth,
    and I will never go back on my word:
Every knee will bend to me,
    and every tongue will declare allegiance to me.”
The people will declare,
    “The Lord is the source of all my righteousness and strength.”
And all who were angry with him
    will come to him and be ashamed.
In the Lord all the generations of Israel will be justified,
    and in him they will boast. – Isaiah 45:22-25 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Behold My Servant

1 Behold my servant, whom I uphold,
    my chosen, in whom my soul delights;
I have put my Spirit upon him;
    he will bring forth justice to the nations.
He will not cry aloud or lift up his voice,
    or make it heard in the street;
a bruised reed he will not break,
    and a faintly burning wick he will not quench;
    he will faithfully bring forth justice.
He will not grow faint or be discouraged[
    till he has established justice in the earth;
    and the coastlands wait for his law.

Thus says God, the Lord,
    who created the heavens and stretched them out,
    who spread out the earth and what comes from it,
who gives breath to the people on it
    and spirit to those who walk in it:
“I am the Lord; I have called you[b] in righteousness;
    I will take you by the hand and keep you;
I will give you as a covenant for the people,
    a light for the nations,
    to open the eyes that are blind,
to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon,
    from the prison those who sit in darkness.
I am the Lord; that is my name;
    my glory I give to no other,
    nor my praise to carved idols.
Behold, the former things have come to pass,
    and new things I now declare;
before they spring forth
    I tell you of them.” –
Isaiah 42:1-9 NLT

God now attempts to turn the attention of the nations from their false gods to His servant. Unlike idols made by human hands, this individual brings delight to God. And while God also refers to King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon as His servant, there is a marked difference between this pagan king and the one in whom God delights.

Now I have given all these lands into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, my servant, and I have given him also the beasts of the field to serve him. – Jeremiah 27:6 NLT

First of all, this servant would have the Spirit of God upon him. He would operate under the power and influence of the Spirit. And, while Nebuchadnezzar would be used by God to bring judgment upon Judah, the servant will bring justice the nations.

There is a sense in which this description of the Servant/Savior points to Jesus at His first coming, but also alludes to aspects of His ministry that will be tied to His second coming. When Jesus came to the earth in human form, He did not do so with a lot of fanfare. He came quietly and rather obscurely. Most people alive at the time had no idea He had even been born. Mary and Joseph had been told of His coming and informed of His unique status as the Son of God and the Savior of the world. The angel Gabriel made this perfectly clear to Mary.

“You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. And he will reign over Israel forever; his Kingdom will never end!” – Luke 1:31-32 NLT

Yet, apart from the wise men who saw the star signifying His birth, there were not many who made their way to Bethlehem to celebrate His birth. The shepherds were privileged to be among the few who saw the baby Jesus, but only because they were informed by the angels. For the most part, the birth of the Servant/Savior was a quiet affair.

And once Jesus began His earthly ministry, He turned His attention to the downtrodden and outcasts of the society. He met with prostitutes and tax collectors. He touched and healed the unclean, including lepers. He made it a habit of ministering to all those in society who were weary from life and spiritually worn out from carrying the heavy burdens that come with slavery to sin (Matthew 11:28).

He will not crush the weakest reed
    or put out a flickering candle.
– Isaiah 42:3 NLT

Instead, “He will bring justice to all who have been wronged” (Isaiah 42:3 NLT). And that is exactly what Christ did. He offered justice in the form of His sacrificial death on the cross. He provided a means by which the just and righteous wrath of God against the sins of man could be delivered without anyone having to die, but Himself. He became the substitutionary atonement for sinful man. And He did it for those who did not deserve it and had not earned it. We were little more than flimsy reeds and flickering candles, without any real worth or value, and totally incapable of saving ourselves.

God chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful. God chose things despised by the world, things counted as nothing at all, and used them to bring to nothing what the world considers important. – 1 Corinthians 1:27-28 NLT

And during His earthly ministry, Jesus refused to give in or give up. He faced mounting opposition and repeated rejection by His own people.

He came into the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognize him. 1He came to his own people, and even they rejected him. – John 1:10-11 NLT

But Jesus was determined. He was out to finish the assignment given to Him by God the Father. Isaiah describes Him as not losing heart.

He will not falter or lose heart
    until justice prevails throughout the earth.
    Even distant lands beyond the sea will wait for his instruction
. – Isaiah 42:4 NLT

Jesus declared that His whole purpose for coming in the first place had been “to do the will of God who sent me, not to do my own will” (John 6:38 NLT). And as the tension between He and the Jewish religious leaders increased and the time for His death drew closer, He became all the more determined to complete His God-given task.

When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. – Luke 9:51 ESV

Luke utilizes a line found in the fiftieth chapter of the book of Isaiah, reflecting the early church’s belief that Jesus was the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy

Therefore, I have set my face like a stone, determined to do his will. And I know that I will not be put to shame. – Isaiah 50:7 NLT

But when Isaiah refers to a time when justice will prevail throughout the earth, he is clearly indicating a future period of time. Jesus’ birth, death and, resurrection have made it possible for sinful man to be made right with a holy God, but we do not yet live in an all-prevailing atmosphere of justice on this earth. Sin is still rampant. Injustice is alive and well. Impurity surrounds and even, at times, infects us. But there is a day coming when Jesus will return and He will make all things right. He will restore justice to the earth. He will rule in righteousness.

And God makes it clear that He was sending His servant, the Messiah, to do for the people of Israel what they had not been able to do for themselves. He would redeem and restore them.

“I, the Lord, have called you to demonstrate my righteousness.
    I will take you by the hand and guard you,
and I will give you to my people, Israel,
    as a symbol of my covenant with them.
And you will be a light to guide the nations.
    You will open the eyes of the blind.
You will free the captives from prison,
    releasing those who sit in dark dungeons.”
– Isaiah 42:6-7 NLT

Jesus even referred to this passage when He spoke in the synagogue in Nazareth.

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
    for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released,
    that the blind will see,
that the oppressed will be set free,
   and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come. and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come.
” – Luke 4:18-19 NLT

Jesus did all of these things in His first coming. He did deliver good news to the spiritual impoverished. He did proclaim a way for the spiritually imprisoned to be released. He did restore sight to the spiritually blind. And for all those who placed their faith in Him, they were set free from the oppression caused by their death sentence.

But Jesus is far from done. He came, but He left. He rose from the dead and returned to His Father’s side, where, we are told, He intercedes on our behalf. But there is a day coming when He will return. And the full weight of this chapter will be felt as every aspect of its message is fulfilled in Christ.

And now, God returns to His original message, reminding the people of Judah that He is the one and only God. He alone knows the future and He has just told them what it will contain. But, more than just predicting the future, God assures them that He is one who will bring it about.

“I am the Lord; that is my name!
    I will not give my glory to anyone else,
    nor share my praise with carved idols.
Everything I prophesied has come true,
    and now I will prophesy again.
I will tell you the future before it happens.”
– Isaiah 42:9 NLT

The Servant did come. The Messiah came to earth and proclaimed the good news of the Kingdom of God. But He returned to His Father’s side, where He is waiting for a word from His Father to one day return for His bride, the Church, and then to make His second grand entrance into the world as the King of kings and Lord of lords. God has said it and He will accomplish it.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)
Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Your God Is Coming!

1 Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
    and cry to her
that her warfare is ended,
    that her iniquity is pardoned,
that she has received from the Lord’s hand
    double for all her sins.

A voice cries:
“In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord;
    make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be lifted up,
    and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
    and the rough places a plain.
And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
    and all flesh shall see it together,
    for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

A voice says, “Cry!”
    And I said, “What shall I cry?”
All flesh is grass,
    and all its beauty is like the flower of the field.
The grass withers, the flower fades
    when the breath of the Lord blows on it;
    surely the people are grass.
The grass withers, the flower fades,
    but the word of our God will stand forever.

Go on up to a high mountain,
    O Zion, herald of good news;
lift up your voice with strength,
    O Jerusalem, herald of good news;
    lift it up, fear not;
say to the cities of Judah,
    “Behold your God!”
10 Behold, the Lord God comes with might,
    and his arm rules for him;
behold, his reward is with him,
    and his recompense before him.
11 He will tend his flock like a shepherd;
    he will gather the lambs in his arms;
he will carry them in his bosom,
    and gently lead those that are with young. – Isaiah 40:1-11 ESV

Isaiah has just delivered a shocking message to the king of Judah.

“Listen to this message from the Lord of Heaven’s Armies: ‘The time is coming when everything in your palace—all the treasures stored up by your ancestors until now—will be carried off to Babylon. Nothing will be left,’ says the Lord. ‘Some of your very own sons will be taken away into exile. They will become eunuchs who will serve in the palace of Babylon’s king.’” – Isaiah 39:5-7 NLT

And while Hezekiah seems to have taken it all it in stride, this devastating news was not going to sit well with the people of Judah. Because of Hezekiah’s pride, as evidenced by his ill-advised and boastful display of the wealth of his kingdom to the Babylonians, God was going to hand Judah over to the Babylonians. The city of Jerusalem would fall, the temple would be destroyed, and the people would be taken as captives to Babylon.

So, if you’re in Isaiah’s sandals, what do you say to the people of Judah at a time like this? How do you continue to speak into their lives after God has delivered such a bombshell of a pronouncement? You listen to God. You wait for Him to reveal the rest of the story. God has declared His judgment, in no uncertain terms. But it will be followed by His deliverance. And, as chapter 40 opens up, we are taken on a fast-forward journey into the future, long after the fall of Jerusalem. The people of Judah are living in exile in Babylon. And the days of their punishment are coming to an end.

In the following chapters, God reveals that the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians will take place, but so will their future deliverance. And the message He gives to Isaiah while speaking of a day nearly a century and a half into the future, is meant to provide immediate encouragement to the people of Judah living in Isaiah’s day. God opens with the words, “Comfort, comfort my people.” In the midst of all their sorrow and despair, God speaks words intended to bring hope and assurance.

“Speak tenderly to Jerusalem.
Tell her that her sad days are gone
    and her sins are pardoned.
Yes, the Lord has punished her twice over
    for all her sins.” – Isaiah 40:2 NLT

It is as if Isaiah has been teleported into the future where is allowed to see events that have not yet taken place. But because these distant scenes are revealed by God Himself, they are reality, not fantasy. This is not wishful thinking on the part of Isaiah, but the revealed will of God. He is providing a revelation of things to come.

God is coming. His arrival is imminent, and the people are told to make preparations.

“Clear the way through the wilderness
    for the Lord!
Make a straight highway through the wasteland
    for our God! – Isaiah 40:3 NLT

Their desolate surroundings and distant location would prove to be no barrier for God. Their dire circumstances would be no problem for the Almighty. Every imaginable and seemingly impregnable obstacle would be removed, making way for God’s arrival.

“Then the glory of the Lord will be revealed,
    and all people will see it together.” – Isaiah 40:5 NLT

And how are the people to know that these things will happen? The Lord has spoken. He has declared it. “The mouth of the Lord has spoken” (Isaiah 40:5 ESV). This message declaring God’s trustworthiness and reliability are reiterated just a few verses later.

“…the word of our God will stand forever.” – Isaiah 40:8 ESV

And in between these two statements declaring that God’s word is everlasting and always reliable, we find a description of man’s transience and impermanence. Humanity is no more permanent than withering grass or a fading flower. And, like the rest of nature, man is subject to the will of God. He gives life, and He takes it away. He breathes into man the breath of life, and with the very same breath, He takes it away. But His word is permanent and unshakable. It cannot be altered or deterred in any way. Which transforms the following words from a hopeful possibility to a God-ordained certainty.

“Your God is coming!”
Yes, the Sovereign Lord is coming in power.
    He will rule with a powerful arm.
See, he brings his reward with him as he comes.” – Isaiah 40:9-10 NLT

God is coming. It may not be today, but it will happen. Delay should not produce disappointment or doubt. The longer we have to wait, the greater our longing for His coming should grow. Our hope is based on His word, not the nature of our surroundings. God is a faithful, covenant-keeping God. He is the Great Shepherd, who cares for His sheep.

He will feed his flock like a shepherd.
    He will carry the lambs in his arms,
holding them close to his heart.
    He will gently lead the mother sheep with their young. – Isaiah 40:11 NLT

This glimpse into Judah’s future was intended to remind Isaiah and the people of Judah of God’s trustworthiness and sovereignty over their lives. As Isaiah penned these words, the shock of God’s pronouncement of Judah’s fall to Babylon still rang in his ears. The people were shell-shocked by the thought that their great city, while spared defeat by the Assyrians, would one day fall to yet another pagan power. But God wanted them to know that He could be trusted. He was good for His word. And He was a good and gracious Shepherd who would care for His flock.

If we fast-forward again, to the end of the book of Revelation, we see yet another glimpse into God’s future plans for mankind. This time, we hear the words of Jesus Himself, as He reassures His people of His own return.

“Look, I am coming soon, bringing my reward with me to repay all people according to their deeds. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.” – Revelation 22:12-13 NLT

The world will suffer greatly during the seven years of the Tribulation. But at the end of this dark period of human history, God will send His Son to the earth a second time. And, this time, He will come as a conquering King who defeats all those who stand in opposition to His rule and reign. He will establish His Kingdom on earth, and restore the people of Israel to a right relationship with God. But how do we know that these future events will take place? Because Jesus declared, “These words are trustworthy and true” (Revelation 22:6 ESV). And He leaves us with these comforting words of promise:

He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” – Revelation 22:20 ESV

And our response should be:

Amen! Come, Lord Jesus! – Revelation 22:20 ESV

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)
Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

 

The Way of Holiness

1 The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad;
    the desert shall rejoice and blossom like the crocus;
it shall blossom abundantly
    and rejoice with joy and singing.
The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it,
    the majesty of Carmel and Sharon.
They shall see the glory of the Lord,
    the majesty of our God.

Strengthen the weak hands,
    and make firm the feeble knees.
Say to those who have an anxious heart,
    “Be strong; fear not!
Behold, your God
    will come with vengeance,
with the recompense of God.
    He will come and save you.”

Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
    and the ears of the deaf unstopped;
then shall the lame man leap like a deer,
    and the tongue of the mute sing for joy.
For waters break forth in the wilderness,
    and streams in the desert;
the burning sand shall become a pool,
    and the thirsty ground springs of water;
in the haunt of jackals, where they lie down,
    the grass shall become reeds and rushes.

And a highway shall be there,
    and it shall be called the Way of Holiness;
the unclean shall not pass over it.
    It shall belong to those who walk on the way;
    even if they are fools, they shall not go astray.[a]
No lion shall be there,
    nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it;
they shall not be found there,
    but the redeemed shall walk there.
10 And the ransomed of the Lord shall return
    and come to Zion with singing;
everlasting joy shall be upon their heads;
    they shall obtain gladness and joy,
    and sorrow and sighing shall flee away. – Isaiah 35:1-10 ESV

The preceding chapter was filled with imagery of devastation and destruction, the results of God judgment on the world, meted out by Christ when He returns at the end of the period of Tribulation. During the seven years of Tribulation, as described by John in his book of Revelation, the world will suffer under a series of unprecedented judgments brought upon the unbelieving world by the hand of God. Jesus Himself described the severity of those coming days in stark terms.

“For there will be greater anguish than at any time since the world began. And it will never be so great again.” – Matthew 24:>21 NLT

The Tribulation will be a time of great distress. The world will be under the rule of the Antichrist, a powerful world leader who will use his influence to persecute the Jewish people. As the earthly representative of Satan, he will make his life’s mission to destroy any who worship the one true God, including both Jews and Gentiles who come to faith in Christ during the darkest days of the Tribulation. But God will bring a wave of ever-increasing judgments against the unbelieving world. He will devastate the earth itself, destroying crops, livestock, and even the fish in the sea by turning the water into blood. In a series of inescapable divine judgments, God will destroy more than one half of the earth’s population. And yet, the unbelieving world will remain unrepentant and unwilling to acknowledge Him as God.

And the seven years will culminate with the Second Coming of Christ and His defeat of the armies of the world. Antichrist will be dethroned and permanently imprisoned by the King of kings and Lord of lords. Satan will be bound and placed in divine custody, “so that he might not deceive the nations any longer” (Revelation 20:3 ESV). And this will set up the Millennial Kingdom of Christ, a literal 1,000-year period of time when Christ will rule in righteousness from the throne of David in Jerusalem. John describes this remarkable period of time on earth.

Then I saw thrones, and the people sitting on them had been given the authority to judge. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their testimony about Jesus and for proclaiming the word of God. They had not worshiped the beast or his statue, nor accepted his mark on their foreheads or their hands. They all came to life again, and they reigned with Christ for a thousand years. – Revelation 20:4 NLT

With Christ on the throne, the world will experience a period of unprecedented peace and prosperity. For the first time since the fall of mankind, Satan and his demons will have no influence over the world. They will have been removed by God, and their ability to tempt and deceive humanity will be non-existent.

And in chapter 35, Isaiah uses the news of this coming day of Jesus’ victory over sin and Satan to encourage his readers to stay strong in the midst of their current circumstances.

With this news, strengthen those who have tired hands,
    and encourage those who have weak knees.
Say to those with fearful hearts,
    “Be strong, and do not fear,
for your God is coming to destroy your enemies.
    He is coming to save you.” – Isaiah 35:3-4 NLT

As bad as things appeared to be, they needed to remember that their God was in control. He had a plan in place. And while their current suffering was real and the threat against them was formidable, God was sovereign over all. This entire chapter was meant to remind the people of Judah, and us, that a day is coming when God will restore the land and His people. The words of Isaiah are meant to convey a sense of hopeful anticipation.

…the wilderness and desert will be glad. – vs. 1

The wasteland will rejoice and blossom – vs. 1

there will be an abundance of flowers and singing and joy! vs. 2

The deserts will become as green… – vs. 2

While the people of Judah were focused on their current circumstances, Isaiah attempts to redirect their attention to the future, when God will do great things on the earth. He wanted them to have an eternal perspective. God has a long-term plan for His creation, and He intends to rectify all that has been marred by the presence of sin. But we must learn to wait for that day. The apostle Paul understood that fact and encouraged the believers in Corinth to keep their eyes focused on the future God has planned for them.

For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever. – 2 Corinthians 4:17-18 NLT

Isaiah describes a day when things will be markedly different on the earth. The blind will receive their sight, the deaf will hear, the lame will walk, and the dumb will speak. It will be a day when disease and disabilities will be permanently removed from the earth. Isaiah paints a picture of restoration and renewal, where all the defects caused by sin are eradicated. Even nature itself will be rejuvenated by God’s gracious hand.

Springs will gush forth in the wilderness,
    and streams will water the wasteland.
The parched ground will become a pool,
    and springs of water will satisfy the thirsty land.
Marsh grass and reeds and rushes will flourish
    where desert jackals once lived. – Isaiah 35:6-7 NLT

And running through this lush landscape will be a road, a highway called the Way of Holiness. Whether it is a literal road or not is unclear. But Isaiah seems to be emphasizing a path that leads to Zion, the city of Jerusalem, where Jesus will reign. And all those who take that road or path will willingly make their way to the holy city to worship the Son of God. This roadway will be reserved for the holy, those who long to see God. “It will be only for those who walk in God’s ways” (Isaiah 35:8 NLT). The prophet Micah describes pilgrims from all over the world making their way to Jerusalem in that day.

People from many nations will come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of Jacob’s God. There he will teach us his ways, and we will walk in his paths.” For the LORD’s teaching will go out from Zion; his word will go out from Jerusalem. – Micah 4:2 NLT

The prophet Zechariah describes it this way:

The Lord says, “Shout and rejoice, O beautiful Jerusalem, for I am coming to live among you. Many nations will join themselves to the Lord on that day, and they, too, will be my people. I will live among you, and you will know that the Lord of Heaven’s Armies sent me to you. The land of Judah will be the Lord’s special possession in the holy land, and he will once again choose Jerusalem to be his own city.” – Zechariah 2:10-12 NLT

These prophetic descriptions of God’s future plans for Jerusalem and the nations of the world are meant to bring encouragement to God’s people of all ages. No matter what difficulties we may face in this world, God has a future planned when all trial, troubles, and tribulations will be no more. All those who belong to Him will one day experience the fulness of His grace and mercy as He makes all things new. His long-awaited promises, made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob will be fulfilled. The return of His Son will take place, just as Jesus He told the disciples. The world will be restored to its former glory. Jerusalem will once again be the holy city of God, ruled over by the Seed of Abraham and the Son of David. And Isaiah reminds his readers that, even in the midst of their current circumstances, they have reason to rejoice, because God is far from done.

Those who have been ransomed by the Lord will return.
    They will enter Jerusalem singing,
    crowned with everlasting joy.
Sorrow and mourning will disappear,
    and they will be filled with joy and gladness. – Isaiah 35:10 NLT

 

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)
Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

All Things New.

1 Draw near, O nations, to hear,
    and give attention, O peoples!
Let the earth hear, and all that fills it;
    the world, and all that comes from it.
For the Lord is enraged against all the nations,
    and furious against all their host;
    he has devoted them to destruction, has given them over for slaughter.
Their slain shall be cast out,
    and the stench of their corpses shall rise;
    the mountains shall flow with their blood.
All the host of heaven shall rot away,
    and the skies roll up like a scroll.
All their host shall fall,
    as leaves fall from the vine,
    like leaves falling from the fig tree.

For my sword has drunk its fill in the heavens;
    behold, it descends for judgment upon Edom,
    upon the people I have devoted to destruction.
The Lord has a sword; it is sated with blood;
    it is gorged with fat,
    with the blood of lambs and goats,
    with the fat of the kidneys of rams.
For the Lord has a sacrifice in Bozrah,
    a great slaughter in the land of Edom.
Wild oxen shall fall with them,
    and young steers with the mighty bulls.
Their land shall drink its fill of blood,
    and their soil shall be gorged with fat.

For the Lord has a day of vengeance,
    a year of recompense for the cause of Zion.
And the streams of Edom shall be turned into pitch,
    and her soil into sulfur;
    her land shall become burning pitch.
10 Night and day it shall not be quenched;
    its smoke shall go up forever.
From generation to generation it shall lie waste;
    none shall pass through it forever and ever.
11 But the hawk and the porcupine shall possess it,
    the owl and the raven shall dwell in it.
He shall stretch the line of confusion over it,
    and the plumb line of emptiness.
12 Its nobles—there is no one there to call it a kingdom,
    and all its princes shall be nothing.

13 Thorns shall grow over its strongholds,
    nettles and thistles in its fortresses.
It shall be the haunt of jackals,
    an abode for ostriches.
14 And wild animals shall meet with hyenas;
    the wild goat shall cry to his fellow;
indeed, there the night bird settles
    and finds for herself a resting place.

15 There the owl nests and lays
    and hatches and gathers her young in her shadow;
indeed, there the hawks are gathered,
    each one with her mate.
16 Seek and read from the book of the Lord:
    Not one of these shall be missing;
    none shall be without her mate.
For the mouth of the Lord has commanded,
    and his Spirit has gathered them.
17 He has cast the lot for them;
    his hand has portioned it out to them with the line;
they shall possess it forever;
    from generation to generation they shall dwell in it. – Isaiah 34:1-17 ESV

Destruction, slaughter, judgment, blood, vengeance, confusion, and emptiness.

Not exactly words of comfort, are they? And while they may create in us a sense of unease and discomfort because of the way they portray our God, they provide a much-needed reminder of the comprehensiveness God’s divine nature. In an age when we prefer to focus all our attention on the love of God, the 34th chapter of Isaiah is a stark reminder of His hatred for sin and the wrath He expresses toward those who willingly flaunt their sin in His face.

This entire chapter is a universal message directed at all the nations of the world. It is God’s indictment against any and all who refuse to acknowledge Him as the one and only God. While they may enjoy their season of rebellion against Him, the day is coming when judgment will fall on each and every one of them.

For the Lord is enraged against the nations.
    His fury is against all their armies.
He will completely destroy them,
    dooming them to slaughter. – Isaiah 34:2 NLT

The prophet Jeremiah spoke of this very same day of pending judgment.

“His cry of judgment will reach the ends of the earth,
    for the Lord will bring his case against all the nations.
He will judge all the people of the earth,
    slaughtering the wicked with the sword.
    I, the Lord, have spoken!”

This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies says:
    “Look! Disaster will fall upon nation after nation!
A great whirlwind of fury is rising
    from the most distant corners of the earth!”  – Jeremiah 25:31-32 NLT

Both Isaiah and Jeremiah speak of a battle of epic proportions and a slaughter so great that the bodies of the dead will remain unburied.

Their dead will be left unburied,
    and the stench of rotting bodies will fill the land… – Isaiah 34:3 NLT

In that day those the Lord has slaughtered will fill the earth from one end to the other. No one will mourn for them or gather up their bodies to bury them. They will be scattered on the ground like manure. – Jeremiah 25:33 NLT

Obviously, this will be a battle like nothing the world has ever witnessed. It does not depict a war between nations, as were the first two world wars. This will be a conflict between the nations of the world and God Almighty. Ultimately, it will be a spiritual battle played out between the forces of Satan and the Son of God. But that does not mean it will be metaphorical or allegorical in nature. No, this end-times showdown between God and the self-exalted nations of the world will involve actual armies, intent on defeating God and displacing Him as the ruler of the world.

Then the sixth angel poured out his bowl on the great Euphrates River, and it dried up so that the kings from the east could march their armies toward the west without hindrance. And I saw three evil spirits that looked like frogs leap from the mouths of the dragon, the beast, and the false prophet. They are demonic spirits who work miracles and go out to all the rulers of the world to gather them for battle against the Lord on that great judgment day of God the Almighty. – Revelation 16:12-14 NLT

And the demonic spirits gathered all the rulers and their armies to a place with the Hebrew name Armageddon. – Revelation 16:16 NLT

These nations will be demonically inspired to wage war against God Almighty and His people. And while their numbers will be great, their effort will end in failure. This gathering of the nations in opposition to God will usher in the Second Coming of Christ. And the apostle John describes Jesus as coming on the clouds, dressed in white, and prepared to “release the fierce wrath of God” (Revelation 19:15 NLT). And His arrival will spell doom for the enemies of God.

Then I saw an angel standing in the sun, shouting to the vultures flying high in the sky: “Come! Gather together for the great banquet God has prepared. Come and eat the flesh of kings, generals, and strong warriors; of horses and their riders; and of all humanity, both free and slave, small and great.” – Revelation 19:17-18 NLT

Isaiah goes on to describe the nature of the destruction. It will be widespread and complete. And Isaiah uses the Edomites, the descenants of Esau, as the representatives of all the nations of the world. Esau was the twin brother of Jacob, and both were born to Isaac. But God chose Jacob to be the one through whom His promise of a Messiah would come. And in the book of Malachi, God expressed His love for Jacob and His hatred for Esau.

“I have always loved you,” says the Lord.

But you retort, “Really? How have you loved us?”

And the Lord replies, “This is how I showed my love for you: I loved your ancestor Jacob, but I rejected his brother, Esau, and devastated his hill country. I turned Esau’s inheritance into a desert for jackals.”

Esau’s descendants in Edom may say, “We have been shattered, but we will rebuild the ruins.” – Malachi 1:2-4 NLT

Esau’s descendants, angry at their rejection by God, displayed a stubborn determination to resist the will of God. And their challenge to God’s sovereignty and authority remains alive and well today. The Edomites are, in essence, the poster boy for all those who stand in opposition to God. And Isaiah makes it quite clear that allthose who stand opposed to God will ultimately fall.

He will make a mighty slaughter in Edom.
Even men as strong as wild oxen will die—
    the young men alongside the veterans.
The land will be soaked with blood
    and the soil enriched with fat. – Isaiah 34:6-7 NLT

But what is the purpose behind all of this slaughter? Why will God bring such devastation on the nations of the earth? Isaiah tells us.

For the Lord has a day of vengeance,
    a year of recompense for the cause of Zion. – Isaiah 34:8 ESV

Part of God’s covenant promise to Abraham was that any nation who cursed his descendants would be cursed themselves.

“I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse.” – Genesis 12:3 ESV

And while there have been many nations which have persecuted the people of God over the centuries, the intensity of Israel’s persecution will reach its apex during the seven years of the Tribulation. Under the influence of the Antichrist, the nations of the earth will turn on the people of Israel with greater degree of hostility and intensity than has ever been seen before. And while many Jews and Christians will die as martyrs during the Tribulation, God will keep His promise to curse those who curse Israel.

Isaiah’s description of this coming day of God’s judgment is filled with imagery that conveys complete and utter destruction, but primarily of humanity. Notice that the animals are allowed to occupy the land once occupied by the nations.

The land will lie deserted from generation to generation.
    No one will live there anymore. – Isaiah 34:10 NLT

This is meant to convey that God’s judgment is final and complete. It is not just a temporary setback for mankind. Remember what the Edomites said: “We have been shattered, but we will rebuild the ruins.” That will not be the case when God is done with His judgment of the nations of the earth. 

God’s devastation of His creation sets the stage for His restoration and recreation of all that He has made. The sin-tarnished creation will be restored to its original luster by God. He will make all things new.

Behold, I am doing a new thing;
    now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
    and rivers in the desert. – Isaiah 64:43:19 ESV

And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” – Revelation 21:5 ESV

“For behold, I create new heavens
    and a new earth,
and the former things shall not be remembered
    or come into mind. – Isaiah 65:17 ESV

The day is coming when God “shall stretch the line of confusion…and the plumb line of emptiness” over the land. He will judge the world in righteousness. But He will also restore to it the peace and fruitfulness it had enjoyed in the days of creation. He will make all things new.

 

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)
Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson