By Samuel M. Frost, Th. M.
The imagery as we discussed in my last article as it concerns Isaiah is that all nations will be called to gather together as God’s elect to the “Holy Mountain.” This theme runs throughout Isaiah. It also touches upon the theme of the New Heavens and New Earth (a phrase used only by Isaiah in the Hebrew Bible). The nations are called (gathered together) to bring about the unification of the peoples of the world (think the opposite of God scattering the peoples at the Tower of Babel). This gathering takes place as the “highway” is built upon which the peoples are seen to tread upon towards the Holy Mountain. Saint Paul identifies this mountain as “Jerusalem Above” (which is also found in Rabbinical thought of his era).
The items marked in Isaiah 65.17-ff is a stark contrast between the futurity of God’s people with the circumstances of them in his day. Israel was war torn with the threat of Assyria and Babylon. Idolatry was rampant. The Temple was scorned. Famines, plagues, drought and economic insecurity abounded. In Isaiah 65.17-ff we read this future hope:
“For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind. 18 But be glad and rejoice forever in that which I create; for behold, I create Jerusalem to be a joy, and her people to be a gladness. 19 I will rejoice in Jerusalem and be glad in my people; no more shall be heard in it the sound of weeping and the cry of distress. 20 No more shall there be in it an infant who lives but a few days, or an old man who does not fill out his days, for the young man shall die a hundred years old, and the sinner a hundred years old shall be accursed. 21 They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit. 22 They shall not build and another inhabit; they shall not plant and another eat; for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be, and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands. 23 They shall not labor in vain or bear children for calamity, for they shall be the offspring of the blessed of the LORD, and their descendants with them. 24 Before they call I will answer; while they are yet speaking I will hear. 25 The wolf and the lamb shall graze together; the lion shall eat straw like the ox, and dust shall be the serpent’s food. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain,” says the LORD” (ESV).
This, as the scholars rightly understand, is the culmination of the dominant themes that have already been encountered several times in the Prophet (as I mentioned in the previous article). Of course, the language is human to describe the hope, but we must always recognize the fact that this is prophecy, and thus, as the syntax itself in its form tells us, is poetic. Secondly, we must always keep in mind the previous material of Isaiah to which this passage is connected. When we survey the entire corpus of this book (which is the context), and note the current situation, historically, of the Prophet, then we can see the stark contrast between this hope where Israel lives at total peace without any misfortune and then as she was. Third, as already mentioned, God envisions through the Prophet not just a hope for Israel, but also through Israel the nations becoming Israel themselves! This is the “mystery” Paul talked about in his letters, “the nations and Israel coming together” as one People. For Paul, this coming together of the nations was a prelude to the hope being made manifest. How were the Ethiopians, Egyptians, Assyrians and Chaldeans to be also called, “My People”? In what manner was the fact of this prophecy, the unification of the world into a new world world peace would reign and death would be swallowed up in victory?
Paul called this a “mystery” because of the fact that it was plain in the Prophets that the nations would come in by the scores of an innumerable multitude. Not only that, but that they would also be counted as “My People” – a covenantal designation that some in Israel took for their own prestige, as if something belonged to them and not others. As if something that belonged to them could not belong to others regardless of how they were assimilated into the covenant people.
Make no mistake about it: Peter, James, John and Paul regarded the mission to the nations (often called, “Gentiles”) as prophetic. That is, what they were doing was according to the time Isaiah saw in the future of his day. There were two things that settled this: the Cross and Resurrection of Jesus, Son of David to the right hand of God, and the pouring out of the Spirit (events mentioned in Isaiah).
We must understand, though, that Jesus continually reminded his followers that “he must first suffer and be handed over and die” before the in-breaking of God to “restore the kingdom to Israel”. They saw, at first, that Jesus, being recognized as the True Messiah, would at that time bring about the dawn of the Isaianic Kingdom. But, there is an order here. And we find it in Isaiah.
Frankly, I was going back over my lectures that I gave on Isaiah (I was writing a commentary on the book at the time) when I was Pastor of Christ Covenant Church (7-12-2005). The points I am making now were pretty much the same I was making then. However, when it got to other matters of the text I had to revert to a method of interpretation that was foreign to what got me there. I had to spiritualize the text so that it “fit” with the notion that “all prophecy was fulfilled” by the time of AD 70 (the heresy of Full Preterism). Be that as it may, and going back and reading Breuggemann and Watts, it is refreshing that to see that my start was good at that time. My end was horrible!
Isaiah sees Israel under the threat of doom and the Assyrians and the Babylonians are coming to finish the job of YHWH’s wrath. Equally, the nations are doomed and the Lord is ready to burn the entire thing up. This is to be understood from the perspective of what ought to be, what should be if God acted entirely on the basis of righteous judgment. However, as we are taught from the beginning, God did not wipe out “all flesh.” He saved Noah and his family. He did not wipe out all of Sodom and Gommorah, he saved Lot and his family. He did not wipe out Esau’s birthright, but gave it to the lesser. He did not wipe out Ninevah, but saved them instead, even though impending doom was over their heads. And, so, we find with Isaiah that God will save Israel through a remnant.
From this remnant we have the Christ, who is named Cyrus (Isaiah 45.1-ff). God is calling the nations (here, Cyrus) who has “not acknowledged me” (compare 65.1). 45.8 reflects the NHNE (new heavens new earth) motif. 45.11-ff is a creation reference to Adam and is now focus on the Messiah Cyrus who will rebuild the remnant. We find this history recorded in Ezra and Nehemiah. But, as I stated before, it doesn’t pan out that way. Cyrus dies and another kingdom comes.
However, Isaiah mentions other factors to come like the “suffering servant” (50-53), who will die and be raised from the dead (53.8-12). This “servant” is a “tender shoot” (53.2), and this maintains the “root” or “Branch” who is to come. It’s not Cyrus. In Isaiah 11.10-ff this “root” take a “remnant” and signals the nations to come and gather together as well to form “My People” (19.25) made from the remnant of Israel (who were flesh and blood descendents of Abraham) and the nations (who are called “My People” not according to flesh-birth). These together will gather upon the Highway which is bound to the Holy Jerusalem, the Mount of Zion, the Temple of the Lord in heaven.
Isaiah, then, foresees something beyond Cyrus. Israel will be decimated yet again after her regathering under Cyrus! Let me quote from another Sermon I delivered on Isaiah while I was a Full Preterist: “But, as we have seen, Isaiah is not concerned with just that return. A remnant (a tenth) returned to the land, but Isaiah sees another burning that will take place after that return. It is in the days of that second burning that the restoration of the remnant into a powerful, enlarged nation will emerge. However, Isaiah has placed the restoration vision, in many places throughout the book, in areas that have to do with his immediate context. In our last lecture we saw that in 10-11 it appears that after the Assyrians are destroyed, then God would bring about “the Branch”, the “root of Jesse.” This is how Isaiah places these passages. A nation has fallen, restoration might ensue….but it does not. Babylon falls and maybe now the restoration of God will ensue….but it does not pan out. A remnant is regathered back into the land under Cyrus the Persian, so maybe here is when God will restore us…..and it does not happen. Jerusalem is rebuilt and the offerings are once again offered….but here come the Syrians and Antiochus Epiphanes IV. And then Rome….how long, O’ Lord? It is as if Isaiah has deliberately placed these visions of hope after the destruction of these nations, one by one, to keep it in front of them that one day this will happen. Isaiah states this: “I will wait on the Lord who is hiding his face from Jacob, I will put my trust in him” (8.17). This waiting and having faith is rooted in the Hope of Israel, her restoration. It is this kind of faith anchored in the hope that Isaiah has scattered throughout the texts. He sprinkles visions of hope and glory in the midst of historical conflict, civil war, idolatry, exile, desolation, misery and despair. Only a small, small portion of those under Moses’ covenant have this kind of faith. Most among Israel and Judah do not. They hear, but never understand. They have eyes, but cannot see.”
That was preached in 2005! The text I used was Isaiah 6.13, which, as many scholars understand, is a vision of a second destruction of the land. And, here, the Branch will “reclaim a remnant a second time” (11.11). That lands us in Paul’s day. The remnant is regathered out of and together with the Nations to form one new people. It is this people that is placed upon the Highway that leads to Mount Zion, where, “He shall swallow up The Death forever” (Isaiah 25.8) – the “shroud that covers over all the nations.” In Adam, all die and “all the nations” came from him (Acts 17.11). Jesus, the Branch, the Root, the Suffering Servant. “Because that he exposed to The Death his soul, And with transgressors he was numbered, And he the sin of many hath borne, And for transgressors he intercedeth.” Because he exposed himself in obedience to The Death, he abolished The Death in himself (2 Timothy 1.10), holding the keys of The Death (Revelation 1.18 – all verses are literally in Greek/Hebrew “the death”) he now leads all nations, My People, to the Mountain upon which he reigns and sits at the Right Hand of God on a Broad Highway where he will swallow up The Death forever. That which has been done for Him will be done for His People; The Death will be swallowed up in victory. The Gospel of the New Covenant is this: The Restoration has begun. The Highway is here. Good news, indeed.
It is in this imagery that John the Revelator sees “The Death” hurled into the eternal fiery lake, and explicitly alludes to Isaiah 65.17-ff (Revelation 21.1-ff). And, Scripture interpreting Scripture, we are to understand Isaiah’s vision of the ultimate hope of Israel, the restoration of the kingdom, on earth as it is in heaven where it cannot ever be disrupted again. Isaiah’s vision of a NHNE is Edenic and it is also the reversal of the curses of Israel found in the book of the Law (which, also, is upon any nation that serves not the Lord. God does not have two different types of wrath. There is not an “old covenant plague” versus a “natural plague” – a plague is a plague is a plague). It is in this way that he sees a vision of My People in surroundings (heaven on earth) that are quite foreign to what we see presently (Hebrews 2.8, commenting on Psalm 8, which is Edenic before the Fall). “But we see Jesus”!
Therefore, what we can now ascertain in fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets is that Jesus, the Root, has come. Jerusalem would be sacked one more time (70 AD). Yet, from this a remnant would be gathered from Israel who were so by physical descent. From this remnant, this root, this lump, and together with them “the Nations” would be called forming one new man. These would be placed on the Broad Highway of Holiness that leads to Mount Zion, Jerusalem Above, “which is” also “coming down out of heaven” (Revelation 21.2). The People of God, the Israel of God, are on a Highway going up, while the City they are going to is coming down! “On earth as it is in heaven.” This is the New Heavens and New Earth wherein The Death shall be no more once “all those” who have been given to the Son by the Father have been “raised on the last day.”
This understanding, shared so much from the early days of the Church to today is an amazing impetus for the faithful, the People of God, My People. “Who hath wrought and done, Calling the generations from the first? I, Jehovah, the first, and with the last I am He” (Isaiah 41.4). He is from the first generation to the last generation”. He is speaking “to the nations” in this passage, revealing to them (who have not heard, nor seen) who He is. He is the Span of Time from Beginning to End. Isaiah’s message speaks to these generations, each one of them. God has raised up a Banner to the Nations. A Highway has been built. God’s People are walking on it, heading to Zion where Death will be swallowed up for all the nations (resurrection). Today is the Day of Salvation. HEAR HIM who utters FROM HEAVEN! Drink FREELY of the river that flows from the Heavenly City down to the corrupt world. Grace is offered NOW to the oppressed, the downtrodden, the prostitute, the used, abused, tossed away and the afflicted. Praise His Holy Name! Maranatha!