Isaiah 56–66

Introduction

Over the last two Sundays we’ve been studying the book of Isaiah together. Rather than going through it chapter by chapter — which would take months to complete — we’ve been doing an overview of it, dividing it into big chunks. On the first Sunday in December, we concentrated on chapters 1 to 39 where the Lord announced judgment on this present world, because of the sin and rebellion of the people in this world. And the warning he announced was not an idle message, because the one who announced judgment on the world is the Lord, the Great King, who is seated on a high and exalted heavenly throne and who rules over all things. And yet, in that first part of Isaiah, the Lord also announced the coming of Christ the King who will rule forever over a new and better world. And so, instead of judgment and condemnation, which is what we all deserve, there’s the hope of everlasting life in that new and better world for all who believe in Christ the King.

That was in chapters 1 to 39. Then, last week, we spent our time on chapters 40 to 55 which begin with a word of comfort to God’s people who were in exile at that time: the Lord was going to come to rescue his people. Although he was angry with his people for their sin and rebellion, he wasn’t going to abandon them forever, but he was going to bring them back from exile in a far off land to live again in the Promised Land. And so, the people had to prepare for the coming of the Lord by turning from their sin and trusting in him alone to save them. Though they might have been tempted to trust in the gods of the nations, they needed to understand that the gods of the nations were nothing, only idols made of wood and stone who could not save them. By contrast, the Lord their God made all things and rules over all things and he was coming to save them and they would see his glory. So, trust in him! But then, we also learned from that part of Isaiah that God would save his people in all the world by means of his Suffering Servant, who is Jesus Christ the Lord. We all, like sheep, have gone astray from following God’s ways, but instead of punishing us, the Lord God laid the punishment we deserve on his Suffering Servant. Isaiah tells us that the Suffering Servant would lay down his life as a guilt offering to pay for our sins; and he would sprinkle and cleanse people in many nations from all that defiles. He was pierced for our transgressions and he was crushed for our iniquities and he bore the punishment that brought us peace. Because of our sin and rebellion, we deserve to be condemned by God forever. But God sent the Lord Jesus into the world to be the Suffering Servant who saves his people from their sin and misery and who gives them the hope of everlasting life in a new and better world to come.

Today we come to chapters 56 to 66. And in this part of Isaiah, God is portrayed as a great warrior to whom the nations will come. And he sends his Spirit-Anointed Messenger to proclaim a message of salvation. And that Spirit-Anointed Messenger is the Lord Jesus Christ. So, in the first part of Isaiah, we saw that the Lord Jesus is God’s Great King. In the second part, we saw that the Lord Jesus is God’s Suffering Servant. And in this part, we’ll see that the Lord Jesus is God’s Messenger.

Warrior

But, before we get to that, let’s think about the Lord God as a great warrior.

Chapter 56 begins with the Lord saying:

Maintain justice and do what is right.

This is a call to repentance, because the Lord was calling on the people to turn away from what is wrong and to do what is right. And the call to repentance was necessary, because ‘my salvation is close at hand’ and ‘my righteousness will soon be revealed’. The Lord was going to come soon to reveal his righteousness, which means he was coming to punish the wicked and to save his people.

Well, perhaps in Isaiah’s day people had been sceptical and had doubted the Lord’s ability to do anything. And so, at the beginning of chapter 59, Isaiah declared that the Lord’s arm was not too short to save. God’s arm symbolised his strength; and so, Isaiah was saying that the Lord was strong and mighty and able to save his believing people and to punish his enemies.

It’s clear from what we read in verse 12 of chapter 59, that the people were covered in guilt. Look with me at verse 12 and following where Isaiah confesses:

For our offenses are many in your sight,
and our sins testify against us.
Our offenses are ever with us,
and we acknowledge our iniquities:
rebellion and treachery against the Lord,
turning our backs on our God,
inciting revolt and oppression,
uttering lies our hearts have conceived.
So justice is driven back,
and righteousness stands at a distance;
truth has stumbled in the streets,
honesty cannot enter.
Truth is nowhere to be found,
and whoever shuns evil becomes a prey.

And then we read that the Lord saw that there was no one who could put things right. And since there was no one else, he announced that he himself would come. And he would come as a mighty warrior. Look how he describes his coming in verses 16 and 17:

He saw that there was no one,
he was appalled that there was no one to intervene;
so his own arm achieved salvation for him,
and his own righteousness sustained him.
He put on righteousness as his breastplate,
and the helmet of salvation on his head;
he put on the garments of vengeance
and wrapped himself in zeal as in a cloak.

So, he was going to put on the soldier’s breastplate and helmet and he was going to wrap himself in the soldier’s cloak and he would come with righteousness and salvation to save those who trust in him and who have repented and to punish all who continue in their sin and rebellion. He was coming to take vengeance on them for their evil deeds. According to verse 18, he will repay people for what they have done and he will pour out his wrath on his enemies and retribution on his foes and he will give the islands their due. God was going to come to judge all who sin against him, and he will come like a pent-up flood to wash away the wicked.

It’s a terrifying picture, isn’t it? The Lord was coming as a mighty warrior to take vengeance on his enemies. But then there’s a message of hope in verse 20, because the Lord who is a warrior towards his enemies is also the Redeemer of all those who turn from their sin. He will redeem them, which means he will set them free from condemnation and save them from the coming wrath.

The Lord is portrayed in a similar way in chapter 63. Someone asks in verse 1:

Who is this coming from Edom,
from Bozrah, with his garments stained crimson?
Who is this, robed in splendour,
striding forward in the greatness of his strength?

And the Lord replies:

It is I, speaking in righteousness, mighty to save.

Edom is a symbol of all of God’s enemies. And so, the Lord has gone to Edom to fight against his enemies; and now, he coming from them, and he’s covered with their blood, because he has trampled them in his anger and he has trod them down in his wrath. So, we’re to imagine the Lord, coming from the battlefield, and his clothes are covered in the blood of his enemies. The Lord refers in verse 4 to vengeance and redemption, because when he comes, not only will he take vengeance on his enemies, but he will also save all those who turn from their sin and rebellion.

And then, in the last chapter of the book, we read in verse 15 that the Lord is coming with fire and his chariots are like a whirlwind and he will bring down his anger with fury and his rebuke with flames of fire. With fire and with his sword the Lord will execute judgment upon all men and many will be those slain by the Lord. And, right at the end of chapter 66, those who have been saved from the coming judgment will look on the dead bodies of those who rebelled against the Lord.

Isaiah portrays for us a terrifying picture of the Lord God who is a Mighty Warrior and who is coming to destroy his enemies, all who have rebelled against him. He is the only God, the one we ought to love and worship and obey. And all who have rebelled against him and who have disobeyed his commands will one day face his wrath and fury and they will be condemned for what they have done. Meanwhile all who have turned from their sin and turned to the Lord for mercy will be pardoned and saved from the coming day of wrath. And so, the message is clear that you must repent of your sins and turn to the Lord for forgiveness, so that instead of facing his wrath, you’ll receive his pardon and the free gift of eternal life.

In chapter 57, the Lord says about himself that he is the high and lofty One, who lives forever and whose name is holy; and he lives in a high and holy place. But he promises to be with the one who is contrite and lowly in spirit. In other words, he is with those who are filled with sorrow because of their sins; and who have humbled themselves before him. So, go to him in prayer and humbly confess your sins and ask for forgiveness. And he will come to you with his grace and mercy to pardon you.

Nations

Well, chapter 60 describes how the nations will come to Jerusalem, because of the light and the glory of the Lord which is in it. Whereas darkness covers the earth, the Lord will rise upon Jerusalem and his glory will appear over the city. When we hear of God’s light and glory, we’re reminded of the glory-cloud which accompanied the Israelites in the wilderness, that pillar of cloud and fire which shone in the darkness and which was a symbol of God’s presence with his people. And so, Isaiah is saying that God will once again dwell among his people in Jerusalem. And, according to verse 3 of chapter 60, nations will come to Jerusalem’s light and kings will be drawn to it. All assemble, Isaiah says in verse 4, and will come to the city where God dwells. And those who come to the Lord will bring gifts and tributes to him, including the wealth of the seas and the riches of the nations. They will bring camels and silver and gold and incense and flocks of sheep and rams and they will proclaim the praise of the Lord. The Lord was once angry with his people in Jerusalem, and so he struck them and sent them away into exile. But the Lord was going to have compassion on them and the city would be made beautiful and the nations would come to pay tribute to the Lord who dwelt there, among his people. He would be their everlasting light and their glory; and their days of sorrow would end.

We find something similar in verse 18 of chapter 66, where God says he will gather all nations and tongues to see his glory. In verse 19, Isaiah refers to those who survive. Presumably he’s referring to those who turned from their sin and were saved from God’s wrath. They are sent to distant lands to proclaim God’s glory among the nations. And the nations will come and pay tribute to the Lord on his holy mountain.

Summary

And so, throughout this part of the book of Isaiah, the Lord is depicted as a mighty warrior, who is coming to punish his enemies for their wickedness and to save all those who have turned from their sin and turned to him for mercy. And in the end, people from all the nations will come to see God’s glory and to pay tribute to him and to live in his everlasting light on God’s holy mountain.

Isaiah was a prophet and he was speaking of the end times, when the Lord Jesus Christ will come to earth in glory and with great power to punish his enemies and to save his people. In Revelation 19, John the Apostle saw a rider on a white horse. The colour white often symbolises purity, but it can also symbolise victory. And the rider on the white horse is the Lord Jesus. John tells us that with justice he will judge the nations and make war on them. And John tells us that his eyes are like blazing fire, and he wears many crowns on his head, to symbolise his royal authority. And his robe is dipped in blood, to symbolise his victory over his enemies. And, of course, that image in Revelation 19 of a robe dipped in blood recalls Isaiah 63 and the garments of the Lord which were stained crimson. And then John tells us that out of the mouth of the Lord Jesus, there’s a sharp sword to strike down the nations. And we’re told that he will rule them with an iron sceptre. And John says he will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty, which again recalls Isaiah 63 and the Lord treading his enemies in his wrath. And in Revelation 19, an angel announced the imminent destruction of all those mighty men who opposed the Lord and his people. And John tells us how all of God’s enemies gathered for one last battle against the Lord Jesus. But as soon as they gathered for war, they were destroyed by the Lord’s sword.

And so, what we read in Revelation 19 about the Lord Jesus matches what Isaiah said about the Lord in Isaiah. Isaiah was a prophet and he was speaking about the second coming of Christ, who is coming to judge the nations and to destroy his enemies.

And John also saw a vision about Jerusalem. But his vision was not about the earthly city of Jerusalem, but it was about a new Jerusalem, the Holy City, which is the church of Jesus Christ in glory. John says the new Jerusalem would need no light, because the glory of the Lord gives it light. And people from all the nations will come to it; kings of the earth will come and bring their splendour into it and the glory of the nations will be brought into it. And those who belong in the new Jerusalem will dwell in the presence of the Lord forever.

What we read in Revelation 21 about the new Jerusalem matches what we read in Isaiah. Isaiah was a prophet and he was speaking about the second coming of Christ, because when he comes, he’ll save his people: men and women and boys and girls from every nation who turned from their sin and who trusted in him. He’ll save them from the coming wrath and they will live with him forever and forever as part of the new Jerusalem, the Holy City, where God will dwell with his people forever.

The Lord Jesus is the mighty warrior who is coming one day to punish his enemies for their sin and rebellion and to save his people who have trusted in him. And so, you should turn from your sin in repentance and you should ask God to pardon you for your sins and to give you the free gift of eternal life. And God is able to pardon you, because the Lord Jesus is the Suffering Servant who gave up his life on the cross to deliver sinners from condemnation and he shed his blood to sprinkle and cleanse us from all our sin.

Messenger

Well, Isaiah has portrayed the Lord as a mighty warrior who will destroy his enemies and as the Saviour of his people who will dwell with him forever. But then, Isaiah also refers in chapter 61 to the Lord’s Spirit-Anointed Messenger. Listen to what the Messenger says about himself:

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
because the Lord has anointed me….

This Messenger was anointed with God’s Spirit to equip the Messenger to do seven things which are listed in the following verses. He’s to proclaim good news to the poor; he’s to bind up the broken hearted; he’s to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners; he’s to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour and the day of vengeance of our God; he’s to comfort all who mourn; he’s to provide for those who grieve in Zion; he’s to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes; and the oil of joy instead of mourning; and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. In other words, he’s to proclaim the Lord’s message of good news and freedom and the year of the Lord’s favour. The year of the Lord’s favour was another name for the Year of Jubilee, which was a time when debts were cancelled in Israel and slaves were set free. And so, this Spirit-Anointed Messenger was coming to announce freedom and a new beginning for God’s people. The old was gone; the new had come. And as a result of his message, mourning and despair will be changed into joy and praise.

Well, in Luke 4 we read how the Lord Jesus went into the synagogue in Nazareth and he read these words from Isaiah 61 about God’s Spirit-Anointed Messenger. And when he had finished reading, he said:

Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.

You see, the Lord Jesus is God’s Messenger, who was anointed with the Spirit of God at the time of his baptism; and who went about from place to place, proclaiming good news to the people, because he had come from heaven to earth to save God’s people from their sin and misery and to give them everlasting life in the new heavens and earth. He proclaimed this message wherever he went. And from his throne in heaven, he continues to send preachers into all the world to proclaim the good news to all people. And as God’s Spirit-Anointed Messenger, he sends forth the Spirit of God to bless the preaching of God’s word, so that those who hear are able to believe the message and they’re able to turn from their sin in repentance and turn to God for forgiveness. And those who believe the message and turn to God are filled with joy, not mourning, and they’re filled with praise, and not despair, because though they’re sinners who deserve to be condemned for their sins, they now know that through faith in Christ they have been pardoned by God forever and they have peace with him forever and they have the hope of everlasting life.

Conclusion

The day is coming — we don’t know when it will be, but we know it’s coming — the day is coming when the Lord Jesus will come as a mighty warrior. And what a terrible day it will be for those who did not believe in him and who continued in their sin and unbelief. When he comes, he will pour out God’s wrath on them; and he will punish them for what they have done; and he will take vengeance on them for breaking his laws. But he will gather all those who did believe and who turned from their sin in repentance and who asked God for forgiveness. He will gather them together and they will live forever in the new heavens and earth in the presence of the Lord forever. And until that day comes, the Lord Jesus will continue to send out preachers into all the world to proclaim in the power of his Spirit the message of good news and of salvation and of freedom from sin and misery. And that message is proclaimed to you today, so that you will turn from your sin and turn to God, asking him to forgive you for the sake of Christ who died for sinners. Save yourself from the coming day of wrath by turning to God, confessing your sins and asking for his forgiveness. And God — who is rich in mercy — will pardon you; and he’ll give you the joy of knowing that your sins have been paid for in full by Christ the only Saviour; and he’ll give you the hope of everlasting life in his presence.