In an earlier post I wrote about Jesus’ self identification as the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets and how the New Testament writers frequently used the prophets in proclaiming the good news of Jesus. In this post I want to look specifically at Isaiah and what he had to say about the future of Israel and how Jesus fulfills that. Isaiah has much more to say than what I can cover in a book, much less a blog article. But I hope to cover a small, but representative, sampling of his words.
It is common among many today to hold that the prophecies of Isaiah, and the other prophets, concerning the nation of Israel will ultimately be fulfilled literally. That ethnic and national Israel continues to be the covenant people of God, and the church today only marks a pause in God’s plan for Israel. But Jesus’ claim is that he is the fulfillment of what the prophets foretold, not national Israel.
So my goal in this article is to look back at Isaiah, as representative of the prophets. And to see it in light of Jesus’ fulfillment of Isaiah’s words of hope to Israel. It is important to note that Isaiah’s words were to Israel. But I believe it is to an Israel that is more than just the ethnic people descending from Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
A Little Background on Isaiah
There is not a great deal of biographical information available on Isaiah. The Scripture tells us that he was a prophet in Judah during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah (Is. 1:1). Isaiah seemed to have ready access to the kings of Judah, indicating that he may have been a part of the royal family. Some traditions identify him as the one sawed in half in Hebrews 11:37, but the Scripture is silent on his death.
There is some question as to the time period in which the book of Isaiah was written. The first 39 chapters are universally ascribed to the prophet Isaiah identified in Isaiah 1:1. But chapters 40-66 are sometimes ascribed to disciples of Isaiah living around the time of the return from Babylonian exile. These later chapters do seem different than the former ones, but I do not believe questions of human authorship take away from the inspiration of the whole book and its relevance to us.
Isaiah is prophesying during the time Assyria conquers the northern kingdom of Israel and threatens Judah. It was a tumultuous time for the tiny kingdom of Judah in the midst of the vying superpowers of the day. Judah was plagued with internal social and religious issues. The rich and powerful were oppressing the poor. And the worship of idols was rampant. During the reign of Hezekiah there was a revival led by the king, and potentially Isaiah, but it seems not to have had lasting results.
Like most of the prophets, Isaiah brings a message of coming judgement. Some of this judgement is directed at the surrounding nations (Isaiah 13-21, 23). But Judah was the target for most of that judgement. Judgement is coming because Judah has turned away from God to the worship of idols. And because of the social injustice that was rampant in the nation.
Woe to the sinful nation,Isaiah 1:4 NIV
a people whose guilt is great,
a brood of evildoers,
children given to corruption!
They have forsaken the LORD;
they have spurned the Holy One of Israel
and turned their backs on him.
Your rulers are rebels,Isaiah 1:23 NIV
partners with thieves;
they all love bribes
and chase after gifts.
They do not defend the cause of the fatherless;
the widow’s case does not come before them.
The above quotes are only a small sample of the charges that God brings against Judah. These same accusations are repeated over and over throughout this book. It might seem overly redundant, but Isaiah is actually a series of proclamations that the Lord gives Isaiah to declare to the people over a period of many years. The people do not change, but God continues to challenge them.
I will turn my hand against you;Isaiah 1:25 NIV
I will thoroughly purge away your dross
and remove all your impurities.
Isaiah’s message of judgement against Israel was fulfilled. But God’s judgement had a purpose. He was not just be punishing them. Rather he was working to cleanse them from their impurities, refining them in the fires of judgement. Then they could be the nation he called them to be.
But Isaiah is not just about judgement. Interspersed with the judgement passages are those that hold out hope. After judgement is executed there is hope for the future. And that is really the focus of this article. Examining some of these passages that look to the future of Israel and to see how Jesus fulfilled them.
An Everlasting Covenant
In Exodus 19:5-6 God proposes to enter into a covenant relationship with the Jewish people. A covenant to which they agreed. But the story of Israel is one of failure to keep their end of that covenant. In Jeremiah 31:31-35 we see a new covenant proposed because of the failure of Israel to keep the old one.
The book of Isaiah also looks to this new covenant that God will establish, calling it a covenant of peace (Is. 54:10), and an everlasting covenant (Is. 55:3; 61:8). This everlasting covenant that Isaiah talks about is distinct from the covenant established at Sinai. In both references to it, it is a covenant that God will make with his people.
In Isaiah 59:21 God tells us something about this covenant. It is one marked by the presence of the Holy Spirit. A covenant where God will put his words on their lips. And a covenant that will be for eternity.
An interesting aspect to this covenant is that it is tied to a person, the Servant of the latter chapters of Isaiah. In Isaiah 49:8 we find God saying to his Servant, “I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people, to restore the land and to reassign its desolate inheritances.”
Root of Jesse
In 2 Samuel 7:16, God told David that “Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever.” When Isaiah was prophesying there was still a descendent of David on the throne. But Isaiah had announced that God’s judgement was coming and the nation was facing destruction. But Isaiah also looked ahead to the restoration of Israel and their monarchy.
In Isaiah 11 the prophet introduces the stump of Jesse. Jesse was David’s father and here represents the line of David. The stump indicates that it has been cut off. David’s line seems to have come to an end. And that does happen when Babylon defeats Judah and deports the royal family, and others, into exile. There is no more king of the line of David, or of any line for that matter.
But Isaiah looks to a shoot growing out of that stump, a branch that will bear fruit. This new king from the line of David will have the Spirit of God resting on him and will rule with wisdom and justice. While Isaiah points to defeat and exile for Judah, he also sees restoration in their future at the hands of this king from the line of David. In Isaiah 11:10-12 the prophet had these words.
In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his resting place will be glorious. In that day the Lord will reach out his hand a second time to reclaim the surviving remnant of his people from Assyria, from Lower Egypt, from Upper Egypt, from Cush, from Elam, from Babylonia, from Hamath and from the islands of the Mediterranean.Isaiah 11:10-12 NIV
He will raise a banner for the nations
and gather the exiles of Israel;
he will assemble the scattered people of Judah
from the four quarters of the earth.
This king will gather together all of the surviving peoples of Israel and Judah who are scattered throughout the world. The passage goes on to describe the defeat of their enemies at the hands of Israel and the Lord.
Isaiah writes about a coming judgement and destruction of Jerusalem. Everything they know and find familiar will be gone. But, as with the renewal of a covenant and a future for David’s line, so Isaiah hold out the image of a restored and glorious Jerusalem. Jerusalem’s destruction will have a cleansing effect, resulting in a Jerusalem that was better than what they could imagine.
In Isaiah 24:23, we read that after the Lord has laid waste the earth and scattered its inhabitants (Is. 21:1), he “will reign on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem, and before its elders—with great glory.” After judgement will come renewal. And God’s reign over the earth will be from Jerusalem.
Not only will Jerusalem be the home of God’s throne, but the scattered exiles will return to Jerusalem to worship God there. Isaiah 27:13 says that “in that day a great trumpet will sound. Those who were perishing in Assyria and those who were exiled in Egypt will come and worship the LORD on the holy mountain in Jerusalem.” That day is The Day of the Lord, a time when God cleanses the world of evil and restores creation to its original state. And when that occurs, God’s people will be restored to Jerusalem.
An Image of Heaven
Not only will God reign from Jerusalem and the scattered exiles be returned, but it will also be a place of joy and not of sorrow. It is almost like the Christian image of heaven. And it is very similar to the picture of New Jerusalem in Revelation 21.
“See, I will createIsaiah 65:17-19 NIV
new heavens and a new earth.
The former things will not be remembered,
nor will they come to mind.
But be glad and rejoice forever
in what I will create,
for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight
and its people a joy.
I will rejoice over Jerusalem
and take delight in my people;
the sound of weeping and of crying
will be heard in it no more.
Isaiah is filled with similar references to the future of Jerusalem, but these give a flavor of what the prophet saw in Jerusalem’s future.
The Nations Streaming In
One aspect of Israel’s renewal that seems not to get as much attention is that it seems to involve more than just the ethnic Jews. In multiple places Isaiah sees those from the nations streaming to Jerusalem and joining in the worship of the Lord. Isaiah 11:10, quoted above, is an example of this, “In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him.”
Isaiah 56:1-8 talks about the salvation of those who were on the outside, in particular eunuchs and foreigners. The Lord says “these I will bring to my holy mountain and give them joy in my house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.” All who come and bind themselves to the Lord will be included in his people, regardless their ethnic background.
A Nation of Evangelists
The book of Isaiah closes with a note about evangelists going out from the Lord’s people who will proclaim the Lord’s glory and will bring in people from the nations as an offering to God. Israel had been called to be a kingdom of priests, proclaiming God’s glory to the peoples around them. And, in the end, that is what they will become.
“I will set a sign among them, and I will send some of those who survive to the nations—to Tarshish, to the Libyans and Lydians (famous as archers), to Tubal and Greece, and to the distant islands that have not heard of my fame or seen my glory. They will proclaim my glory among the nations. And they will bring all your people, from all the nations, to my holy mountain in Jerusalem as an offering to the LORD—on horses, in chariots and wagons, and on mules and camels,” says the LORD. “They will bring them, as the Israelites bring their grain offerings, to the temple of the LORD in ceremonially clean vessels. And I will select some of them also to be priests and Levites,” says the LORD.Isaiah 66:19-21 NIV
Jesus As the Fulfillment of the Prophets
It’s time now to return to Jesus as the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets, especially the prophets. Isaiah looked ahead to: a new covenant being established with his people; a king from the line of David with an everlasting kingdom; the restoration of Jerusalem and the kingdom; and the inclusion of Gentiles into the covenant people. What do we find in the New Testament that would help us to understand Jesus’ fulfillment of these prophecies?
A New Covenant
The synoptic gospels record Jesus sharing in a last Passover meal with his disciples. And all three of them record Jesus as taking a cup and saying “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matt. 26:28). Jesus sees that his death on the cross, and shed blood, is ushering in a new covenant between God and his people.
What is this new covenant? In the eighth chapter of Hebrews we find Jesus identified as the High Priest of a new covenant, the covenant foretold by Jeremiah. The author of Hebrews goes on to say that “By calling this covenant ‘new,’ he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and outdated will soon disappear.” The first covenant was the one established at Sinai, and it is now outdated and obsolete. The new covenant that replaces it was foretold by Jeremiah and fulfilled in Jesus’ self-sacrifice.
Paul also compares these two covenants in Galatians 4:21-31. The old covenant is a covenant of slavery corresponding to the Law. The new covenant is the covenant of promise first promised to Abraham and established in Jesus. A covenant of freedom. And those who share in it have an eternal inheritance.
A King From the Line of David
In Luke 1:26-38, God sends Gabriel to Mary, announcing to her that she would have a child. And not just any child. The son to be born to Mary would be called the Son of the Most High. And he would be a king who would rule on David’s throne. King over a kingdom that would never end.
In Romans 15:12 Paul identifies Jesus as being the Root of Jesse who would rule over the nations and in whom the Gentiles would hope. This is a direct quotation from the Septuagint version of Isaiah 11:10 mentioned above. It is clear that the New Testament authors saw in Jesus the fulfillment of a king who would reign in David’s place. A fulfillment of the promise made to David and remembered by the prophets.
Restoration of the Kingdom
Jesus came as the heir to David’s throne, proclaiming the coming of the Kingdom of God. And most of his teaching and parables were about the kingdom. But Jesus’ kingdom was not what the Jewish people, or his disciples, imagined it to be. Jesus did not come to establish an earthly kingdom that would rule the world. Instead, his kingdom was a spiritual one. And his kingdom was not just one of the Jewish people, but of all who would believe and trust their lives to him.
Is the kingdom foretold by Isaiah and the rest of the prophets in existence now? Or is it yet to come? Or does it have a dual reality, spiritual now with a physical kingdom to come?
The Kingdom is Near
Jesus proclaimed that the Kingdom of Heaven was near, or close at hand. This could mean that it was coming soon. Or it could mean that it has close physical proximity. It seems to me that both of these ideas were included in what Jesus taught. The kingdom would be established in the near future. And it was a kingdom that was nearby, a kingdom that we enter by faith.
After Jesus death and resurrection that kingdom Jesus came to establish did have actual existence. In Colossians 1:13 Paul tells us that God “has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves.” As believers in the Lord Jesus, we are now in his kingdom, not just some time in the future.
A Future Kingdom
But there is also a future aspect to the kingdom. In 2 Timothy 4:18 Paul says that “The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom. To him be glory for ever and ever.” While he is a citizen of the kingdom now, he is living in a foreign land. But he is anticipating a time in the future, when his physical life comes to an end, and he will be brought home into the full reality of that kingdom.
There are some who understand that there will be a physical restoration of the kingdom of Israel on this earth. This position is held by those who demand a physical and literal interpretation of the promises concerning a kingdom. But, it seems to me, that would be somewhat anticlimactic if Jesus is indeed the fulfillment of the Prophets and their message about a renewed kingdom. What better fulfillment of these prophecies could there be than what Jesus has already done.
Inclusion of the Gentiles
In the book of Acts we find a partial history of the church in the first few decades of its existence. It begins as a Jewish body. There is no thought of being anything other that the Israel that God had been working with through the centuries since Abraham. As time goes on the good news of Jesus begins to be shared with Gentiles. And many of them embrace the gospel and become followers of Jesus. While this is challenging to many, and unacceptable to some, the church does embrace these Gentiles believers, seeing in them the fulfillment of prophecy.
In Romans 15:8-12 Paul quotes from Deuteronomy, the Psalms, and Isaiah to show that the Gentiles are included into the people of God. And in Ephesians 2:11-22 he argues that Christ has torn down the dividing wall of separation between Jew and Gentile, making one new body out of the two.
In the Acts 15 the early church met to decide what requirements to impose on the Gentiles who are turning to Christ. It is significant that this early church body did not consider themselves to be distinct from Israel. Rather they had embraced the promised Messiah and saw themselves as faithful Jews. During this meeting Peter explained again what God had done through him with the Gentiles. And then Paul and Barnabas shared what God was doing among the Gentiles. In the end, James, quoting from Amos and Isaiah, decided that the Gentiles who were coming to faith, would not be required to observe the Law. But they would be considered as a part of God’s people.
The Prophecies of Isaiah are Fulfilled in Jesus and His Body
It is popular for some within the Protestant Evangelical community to look for a fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies concerning Israel beyond the fulfillment that the New Testament authors clearly expressed. They look for a renewal of a literal physical kingdom of Israel who will rule over the world for a period of time with a reestablished temple, priesthood and sacrifices. The Old Testament does indeed look to a renewed, and powerful kingdom. To a new temple and reestablished priesthood offering sacrifices.
But the New Testament authors see those prophecies as fulfilled in Christ and his church. We are that building rising to become a holy temple to the Lord (Eph. 2:21-22). We are the holy people and priesthood declaring the praises of God (1 Pet. 2:9-10). We are offering sacrifices acceptable to God (Rom 12:1, Heb. 13:15-16). We are the people of the Kingdom with Jesus, of the line of David, as our king.
Jesus is the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets. Not A fulfillment. But THE fulfillment.
The views expressed here are solely mine and do not necessarily reflect those of any other person, group, or organization. While I believe they reflect the teachings of the Bible, I am a fallible human and subject to misunderstanding. Please feel free to leave any comments or questions about this post in the comments section below. I am always interested in your feedback.
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