The Prophecies of Isaiah
Because of Solomon's sin God divided the nation of Israel into 2 kingdoms: the northern kingdom now called "Israel" and the southern kingdom now called "Judah." The northern kingdom of Israel immediately lapsed into idolatry. Things spiral out of control when Ahab and Jezebel introduce the worship of Baal into the religion of Israel. Although God had warned the nation of Israel by sending her Elijah, she rejected God. It was now just a matter of time before God brought great judgment upon her. That judgment came around 130 years later in 721 BC when the Assyrian empire swooped down upon the northern nation of Israel and destroyed her as a nation. (The Assyrians exported half of the population to other parts of their empire and imported foreigners into the land of the northern kingdom. In both cases the Assyrians forced the Israelites to intermarry, thereby destroying their racial and cultural identity. The ten northern tribes are no more.)
On the other hand, the southern kingdom of Judah continues to sputter along. Her king Hezekiah proves to be faithful to the Lord. The Lord miraculously delivers Judah from the Assyrian menace. She will continue to exist as a nation for 135 years. Although the Lord will save the southern kingdom of Judah from the Assyrians for the next 100+ years Judah will flirt with idolatry. During the reign of the king Manasseh though (the son of Hezekiah) Judah will lapse into full-fledged idolatry. After that God will raise up the Babylonian empire to destroy Judah.
By the time of Hezekiah (~720 BC) the once mighty kingdom of Judah has been reduced to a mere shadow of its former self. During the reigns of David and Solomon the empire stretched from the Nile River in Egypt to the Euphrates River in modern-day Iraq. Wherever her armies went, Israel inflicted defeat after defeat upon her enemies. Now the empire is nothing more than the city of Jerusalem surrounded by a few villages.
In spite of this situation God has specifically promised David that one day one of his descendants would sit upon his throne and reign forever and ever (2 Sam. 7:6-18). The sins of the people CANNOT undo the promise God has made to David. At this time God will raise up one of the greatest prophets of the OT, Isaiah. With the prophecies of Isaiah we see that God has NOT forgotten His promise to David. God will once more take up the promise given to David and expand it beyond anything David had ever conceived. Helping Hezekiah through the Assyrian threat certainly serves as an important event in Isaiah's ministry; however, his prophecies in Isaiah 40-66 overshadow anything else he did in his ministry. They are truly the high point of prophecy in the Old Testament.
Descriptions of the Glorious Kingdom
Although Judah is now a mere shadow of the once mighty empire, God promises her that one day she will be more glorious than she had ever been before. Throughout Isaiah 40-66 Isaiah describes the glorious kingdom that is coming one day. Look at the following verses and write down their description of this new kingdom. (Although this kingdom is the kingdom God promised to give to David and his Son, it far surpasses anything David ever conceived of.)
|PASSAGES FROM ISAIAH||DESCRIPTIONS OF THE KINGDOM|
The Glory of this Kingdom
Throughout Isaiah 40-66 we see Isaiah describing this new kingdom as being glorious. Jerusalem will be so glorious that she will be the envy of the nations. Write down what is going to happen that will cause Jerusalem and Judah to be so glorious: "Clear the way for the Lord in the wilderness; Make smooth in the desert a highway for our _______" (Isaiah 40:3); "Say to the cities of Judah, 'Behold your __________" (40:9); and "Behold the ______ ______ will come with might" (Is. 40:10). This king will have to be human in order to be a descendant of David; however, He must be God in order to have such a glorious kingdom.
Unfortunately for most of us we have lost the sense of awe and wonder attached to this new age God is preparing right now. It's truly a shame because what is about to happen is going to blow away any and everything we have experienced up to this point in time. The awesomeness of this event reminds me of the first time I saw Nathan watch the movie E.T. for the first time; he was only 4 years old at the time. Elliot and E.T. are riding in his bicycle on Halloween night. I knew that this was the point in the movie when Elliot would lose control of his bike and when they would go off a cliff; however, because of his special powers E.T. would make the bicycle fly in the air. I looked at Nathan right as this was about to happen. I kind of figured he was going to love it. When they went off the cliff, Nathan went: "Whoa!" When E.T. made them start flying, Nathan went: "Dad!" He couldn't believe what he was seeing. In the same way God is about to do something so wonderful that we are not going to believe our eyes.
Preparation for the Coming of God
Now God is not simply going to emerge unannounced on the scene. Like any major royal personnage, there will be massive preparation prior to His arrival. Who is going to announce the coming of this person: A _______ is calling, 'Clear the way for the Lord in the ______________'" (40:3).
How is he going to prepare the hearts of the people for the coming of this person (40:4)? (The valleys refer to depression, while the mountains refer to pride.)
The Suffering Servant
According to Isaiah God Himself is going to usher in this new and glorious kingdom. Yet God does not just suddenly appear and bring in the new kingdom. God uses a certain person to usher in this new kingdom. That person throughout Isaiah 40-66 is called "My Servant" or simply "The Servant." As a result, the voice in the wilderness will prepare people for the coming of the Servant; this Servant will bring about the kingdom of God.
There are 4 major passages in Isaiah 40-66 which deal with this Servant, the most famous being Isaiah 53. Read carefully the verses listed below to understand what kind of person this servant would be.
|VERSE FROM ISAIAH 53||DESCRIPTION OF THIS SERVANT|
By weaving the passages about the Servant with the passages about the new and glorious kingdom, Isaiah is underscoring the principle that the sufferings of this Servant is what brings about the kingdom of God. Just like the birth pangs of a woman produce a new baby, so the sufferings of this Servant produce the kingdom of God, the kingdom God had promised to David and to His Son.
Notice one specific element about the sufferings the Servant endures. According to Isaiah 53:6 the Servant suffers because of OUR sins. In other words our sins have prevented God from bringing about His new kingdom. Our sin must first be dealt with before God will bring about this new kingdom. According to Isaiah 53:6 this Servant dies for our sins so that the sin barrier between us and God has been removed. The holy God can now come and dwell among us in glory.
THROUGH THE EYES OF THE APOSTLES
The Voice in the Wilderness
With the possible exception of the Psalms, Genesis, and Exodus, no other passage in the Old Testament has impacted the New Testament as dramatically as Isaiah 40-66. First of all, who does John the Baptist claim to be (John 1:23)?
If John is this voice and if this voice is preparing the coming of God, then who is about to appear on the scene after John the Baptist begins his ministry?
According to John the Baptist who does he claim has come upon the scene (John 1:34)?
The apostles teach that with the coming of John the Baptist Isaiah's prophecies are beginning to be fulfilled. According to the apostles Jesus will fulfill these prophecies.
A Proper Understanding of the Sufferings of Jesus
According to the New Testament Jesus is the Servant Isaiah describes in Isaiah 53 who will bring about the kingdom of God. The Spirit of God sends Philip the evangelist to preach the gospel of an Ethiopian eunuch, who is in charge of the treasury of the Candace, who is the queen of the Ethiopians. When Philip meets him, the eunuch is reading about the Servant in Isaiah 53. At this point Acts says: "And the eunuch answered Philip and said: 'Please tell me, of whom does the prophet speak? Of himself or of someone else?'" And Philip opened his mouth, and beginning from this Scripture [Isaiah 53] he preached _______________ to him" (Acts 8:32-35).
The Jews were so desperate to make Jesus suffer so that they could prove ONCE AND FOR ALL that Jesus was not the son of David who would rule over the kingdom of His father David. In no way did they ever think that this son of David would ever suffer. Rather he would ride into Jerusalem on a white charger and destroy the enemies of God's people. We see though that based on Isaiah 40-66 the apostles realized that the sufferings of Jesus were the birth pangs which produced the kingdom of God. No, Jesus is not yet finished with producing the kingdom of God; however, His sufferings on the cross were the means God used to produce that kingdom.
Mel Gibsonís The Passion of the Christ is a phenomenal achievement in the history of cinema. Never has Jesus' sufferings been so accurately and brutally portrayed as they were in this movie. One scene in particular has touched the hearts of so many women. In this scene Jesus' mother Mary has been traumatized by the sufferings of her Son. She begins to pull back from Jesus because she can take it no longer. Then she sees Jesus collapse beneath the weight of the cross. She flashes back in her mind to the time when He fell as a child and she rushed to help Him. All her maternal instincts now come flooding back. She rushes up to Jesus and cries out: "My Son, I'm here." Then comes the most important part of the scene. Jesus in almost a rebuke says: "Mother, I am making . . . all . . . things . . . NEW!" That is one of the most theologically correct statements in the entire movie. Gibson has correctly seen that the sufferings of Jesus are what brings about the new creation of the universe, the creation of the kingdom of God.
A New Perspective on Our Sufferings
The NT teaches that the sufferings of Christ were the birth pangs which brought about the kingdom of God (see also John 16:21). In the same way our sufferings too are a form of labor pangs (Rom. 8:22-23). In our case what are our labor pangs producing (Gal. 4:19)?
Although this may not be the goal we have set for our lives, it IS the goal God has set for our lives (Rom. 8:28-30). Suffering is probably the most important way God accomplishes this goal in our lives. Moreover, God is committed to seeing this goal made real in our lives. So be prepared to suffer. It is coming whether you like it or not.
All of this should encourage us. Too often we are like Job's friends who sat around and condemned him because he was suffering. They were just so sure that the only possible reason for his suffering were unconfessed sins in his life. Sometimes that is true; HOWEVER, it is not necessarily always true. Christ did not suffer because He sinned. He suffered in order bring about the creation of the new universe. In the same way our sufferings can be birth pangs God uses to produce something wonderful in and through us.
The wonderful thing about suffering is that the more intense the suffering, the more wonderful the thing being produced. How great the thing produced is in a sense in direct proportion to the degree that we suffer. For example, we all shudder at the horrors of the Holocaust in which 6 million Jews were exterminated; however, it took nothing less than the Holocaust for Europe and the United States to wake up and finally give the Jews a home, the land of Israel.
Well, this is true not only of the Jew, it is also true of the Christian. Paul makes an usual statement in Colossians 1:24: "I am making up in my own life on behalf of His body which is the church what I am still lacking in afflictions for Christ." Paul seems to be adopting the Jewish view that the Christ/Messiah was to suffer so much in order to produce this new world. As much as He suffered though (thereby removing our sins), more suffering is needed to finish the work. That suffering is accomplished by the church. This is reinforced in Rev. 6 during the fifth seal in which the martyrs during the tribulation are crying out to God, wanting Him to avenge them. They are told to be patient until the full number of their fellow servants who were to be killed even as they had been should be completed also. In other words, the tribulation will last until the last Christian fore-ordained to be martyred has been martyred.
This helps now explain the intensity of the tribulation. Something so wonderful is coming that it almost defies description. Because it is so marvelous though, dreadful suffering (birth pangs) must precede it. The tribulation of the saints completes this suffering so that the kingdom of God can be produced once and for all. Your suffering is important.
Too many times we think that the only suffering which draws us closer to Jesus is the suffering we suffer because we are Christians. That's simply not true. When Paul writes that the whole creation groans and suffers labor pangs (Rom. 8:18-25), he is including the suffering of the entire physical universe: trees, animals, other forms of vegetation. (If you don't think all creation suffers, go down to the Texas hill country during late summer; you can almost hear creation groaning.) Well, vegetation does not suffer because it is a Christian and is being persecuted. Neither do animals suffer because they are Christians. They like all people are part of the suffering process. All suffering whether for Christ or not necessarily for Christ falls under the same umbrella. All suffering has as its purpose to draw us closer to Jesus.
One final word. If you are suffering and do have unconfessed sin in your life, you need to confess that sin and remove it from your life. To claim to be like innocent Job when you are in fact guilty creates 2 problems: (1) you hurt your witness around those people who know you've sinned, and (2) you're hurting your own self because you preventing God from removing both the sin and suffering from your life. It may take a healthy dose of humility to accomplish this; however, it will be worth it.