False information

The people of Judah were dependent on false prophets and corrupt priests to guide them in their spiritual activities. One of the reasons God’s people were unrepentant was they thought their sacrifices were enough to guarantee God’s blessing on their nation. There was no real awareness among the people of Judah that they were in trouble. Jeremiah described their problem as a “perpetual backsliding” (Jeremiah 8:5). Jeremiah’s use of the term perpetual backsliding indicated there was a permanent separation between God and his people. Another way of describing their condition would be to say the people had abandoned their faith. They no longer believed in God.

It was difficult for Jeremiah to get through to the people because their consciences were unaffected by what they were doing. Jeremiah declared, “Were they ashamed when they had committed abomination? nay, they were not at all ashamed, neither could they blush: therefore shall they fall among them  that fall: in the time of their visitation” (Jeremiah 8:12). A time of visitation was an appointed time when an officer or custodian would have to give an account for his area of responsibility. The nation of Judah was responsible to God for their worship activities. They were not free to worship in any other way than what had been prescribed to them by the Mosaic Law. God’s ultimate goal for his people was for them to receive salvation and eternal life. Because of their disobedience, God’s plan could not be carried out.

God was grieved over the situation in Judah. He didn’t want to punish his children, but he couldn’t overlook the fact that they had disassociated themselves from him and were going to die without their sins being atoned for. Jeremiah depicted God’s attitude toward his children as one of care and concern for their well-being. He said, “The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved. For the hurt of the daughter of my people am I hurt; I am black; astonishment hath taken hold of me. Is there no balm in Gilead; is there no physician there? why then is not the health of the daughter of my people recovered?

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Born again

John 1:1 states, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” This verse established the fact that Jesus was both distinct from God the father, and was God in the fullest sense of who God is. Therefore, when Jesus spoke during his ministry on earth, he was not speaking for God, but as God.

In Isaiah 55:11, it was made clear that God would speak for himself at some point in the future, instead of through a prophet. He said, “So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth; it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.” In the same way that God spoke the physical world into existence, so he intended to speak a spiritual world into existence through the teaching of Jesus Christ.

The difference between God’s original work of creation and his work of salvation through Jesus was the eternal durability of the human heart. Whereas the heart of man was originally able to be broken and filled with sin, Jesus made it possible for man’s heart to be regenerated, to be born again (Titus 3:5). Isaiah declared of God, “I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones” (Isaiah 57:15).

The Hebrew word translated revive in Isaiah 57:15 is chayah (khaw – yaw´). This word means “to bring to life” or “to cause to live” (2421). In this instance, God was referring to causing someone to live again in both a physical and spiritual sense. When Jesus told the man Nicodemus he must be born again, Nicodemus asked, “How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born? Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (John 3:4-5).

The key to understanding Jesus’ response to Nicodemus’ question is the word and. Jesus said that a man must be born of water and of the Spirit. Water spoke of the natural birth, coming out of a mother’s womb, and the Spirit referred to the spiritual birth that took place when a person believed that Jesus was the Messiah. Only God could see the result, but Jesus assured Nicodemus that if he believed, Nicodemus would receive eternal life (John 3:16).

Believing

Believing is more than an acknowledgement that something is true. When we believe something, we act on it. Our behavior makes what we believe evident to others. Originally, the kings of Israel were meant to be role models. Their personal relationship with God was a living testimony to the truth of God’s promises. The prophets of Israel were mouthpieces of God, designed to keep Israel’s kings in check, but false prophets undermined the people’s trust and caused Israel to veer off course. By the time Isaiah came on the scene, the role of a prophet was merely to communicate God’s will and pronounce judgment.

Israel’s Messiah was a prophet as well as their king. It was important for these two roles to be combined so that the people could see the alignment between words and actions. In essence, what Jesus did was speak the word of God and simultaneously act it out. His words and behavior were completely consistent. Although we don’t think of Jesus as a believer, he was a true believer in every sense of the word. What Jesus demonstrated was perfect obedience to the will of God at the cost of his own life.

Isaiah described Israel’s Messiah as a servant, one who was called by God, subject to the will and command of his master (5650). In his description of the Messiah’s calling, Isaiah proclaimed, “The LORD hath called me from the womb; from the bowels of my mother hath he made mention of my name, and he hath made my mouth like a sharp sword; in the shadow of his hand hath he hid me, and made me a polished shaft; in his quiver hath he hid me; and said unto me, Thou art my servant, O Israel, in whom I will be glorified” (Isaiah 49:1-3). As an instrument of death, the Messiah was destined to convict the world of its sin. Not only would he cause Israel to repent, but the Messiah would also make it possible for the Gentiles to be saved (Isaiah 49:6).

As God’s chosen people, the Israelites had an advantage over the rest of the world. Through their birthright, they were guaranteed salvation. The main purpose of God’s work was to bring the Israelites to the point of believing. Isaiah provided a clear picture of the Messiah’s obedience in order to convince God’s people that their Savior had come. Approximately 700 years before Jesus was born, Isaiah proclaimed, “The Lord GOD hath opened mine ear, and I was not rebellious, neither turned away back. I gave my back to the smiters, and my cheeks to them that plucked off the hair: I hid not my face from shame and spitting. For the Lord GOD will help me; therefore shall I not be confounded: therefore have I set my face like flint, and I know that I shall not be ashamed” (Isaiah 50:5-7).

At the core of Israel’s believing was the issue of death and eternal life. Jesus willingly went to the cross because he believed God would raise him from the dead (Matthew 17:23). Repeatedly, God delivered Israel from her enemies in the Promised Land, but salvation was ultimately about defeating death itself. Isaiah exclaimed, “Lift up your eyes to the heavens, and look upon the earth beneath: for the heavens shall vanish away like smoke, and the earth shall wax old like a garment, and they that dwell therein shall die in like manner: but my salvation shall be for ever, and my righteousness shall not be abolished” (Isaiah 51:6).

Isaiah likened death to being a prisoner and living in darkness (Isaiah 42:7, 49:9). In contrast, Isaiah portrayed life after death as waking up from sleep. He stated, “Awake, awake; put on thy strength, O Zion; put on thy beautiful garments, O Jerusalem, the holy city…shake thyself from the dust; arise, and sit down, O Jerusalem” (Isaiah 52:1-2). The Messiah’s resurrection from the dead was more than just a restoration of life. The transformation that occurred during Jesus’ resurrection was a supernatural changing from one life form to another. He was no longer a mortal being, but the immortal Son of God.

God’s message of salvation was in many ways news that was too good to be true. Regarding the Messiah, Isaiah asked, “Who hath believed our report? and to whom is the arm of the LORD revealed?” (Isaiah 53:1). The Hebrew word translated believed, aman is the same word used in Genesis 15:6 where it says of Abraham, “he believed in the LORD.” “The meaning here is that Abram was full of trust and confidence in God…It was not primarily in God’s words that he believed, but in God himself…In other words, Abram came to experience a personal relationship to God rather than in impersonal relationship with his promises” (539). Isaiah referred to believing as having a personal relationship to the Messiah, Jesus Christ.

Isaiah predicted the rejection of Israel’s Messiah and made it clear that Jesus would suffer because of Israel’s unbelief. Isaiah declared:

He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid  on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before his shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth. (Isaiah 53:3-7)

In exchange for giving up his life, the Messiah would be rewarded by God with the spoils of his victory. Isaiah foretold of Jesus, “Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he hath poured out his soul unto death: and he was numbered with the transgressors; and he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors” (Isaiah 53:12). Although the nation of Israel as a whole rejected its Messiah, there were some who believed in Jesus. Isaiah described those who would believe and receive salvation as a wife of youth, and said, “For a small moment have I forsaken thee; but with great mercies will I gather thee. In a little wrath I hid my face from thee for a moment; but with everlasting kindness will I have mercy on thee, saith the LORD thy redeemer” (Isaiah 54:6-7).

Similarities between the Messiah and his followers were noted by Isaiah in his use of the same Hebrew word to designate the servant and servants of the LORD. True believers would be expected to submit themselves to the will of God as the Messiah did. To those who responded in faith, God promised, “No weapon formed against thee shall prosper; and every tongue that shall rise against thee in judgment thou shalt condemn” (Isaiah 54:17). Essentially, the believer was guaranteed entrance into heaven where he would be united with other believers and receive eternal blessings from God (Isaiah 54:11-17).

Isaiah’s great invitation of salvation had two characteristics that made it difficult to resist. First, salvation was free of cost. Isaiah stated, “Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat, yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price” (Isaiah 55:1). Second, salvation was obtained by merely paying attention to what God said. Isaiah declared, “Hear, and your soul shall live” (Isaiah 55:3). The type of hearing Isaiah referred to involved not only the ears, but also the heart (8085). God wanted his people to listen to him using spiritual discernment.

According to Isaiah, the key to believing was an understanding of the ways of God. As much as God had done to develop a relationship with the people of Israel, his effort was fruitless because they couldn’t comprehend his loving nature. Isaiah declared, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9). In order to close the gap, God would himself become the messenger and for the first time since the garden of Eden, he would speak face to face with his children. John the apostle stated it this way. “And the word was made flesh, and dwelt among us” (John 1:14).

The power of the grave

In the book of Hosea, God used the analogy of a marriage to depict his relationship with the nation of Israel so that his people would understand he wanted a personal relationship with them. The prophet Hosea was chosen to model that relationship and was told to marry an adultress because Israel had been unfaithful to God and did not deserve his mercy. The only way Hosea could model God’s love effectively was to forgive his wife and redeem her from a life of prostitution.

The story of Hosea’s wife was meant to portray God’s redemption of his people, but it also showed his people that God’s love was not dependent on their behavior. In spite of their wickedness, God intended to fulfill his promise to king David that he would establish David’s throne for ever (1 Chronicles 17:12). In order to do that, God had to not only forgive his people, but provide a way for them to live eternally. Through Hosea, the LORD declared, “I will ransom them from the power of the grave: I will redeem them from death” (Hosea 13:14).

As when Hosea bought his wife Gomer for fifteen pieces of silver and a homer and a half of barley (Hosea 3:3), God planned to ransom his people. The Hebrew word translated ransom, padah indicates that some intervening or substitutionary action effects a release from an undesirable condition…When God is the subject of padah, the word emphasizes His complete, sovereign freedom to liberate human beings” (6299). Rather than taking away his children’s freedom to choose sin, God intended to take away Satan’s ability to punish them for it.

The power of the grave was the power of Satan to separate someone from the love of God. Sin was the key that enabled Satan to lock a person in the prison called hell, or the grave. Satan was given the key to hell when Adam and Eve ate the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 3:5-6), but God told them he would one day take that power away (Genesis 3:15). The message God communicated through Hosea was that the day of their redemption was about to arrive.

Although Christ’s birth, death, and resurrection was still hundreds of years away when Hosea spoke to Israel, the events were relatively close compared to the thousands of years that had transpired since Adam and Eve sinned in the garden of Eden. As if Hosea had a clear picture of the process of salvation, he stated, “O Israel, return unto the LORD thy God; for thou hast fallen by thine iniquity. Take with you words, and turn to the LORD: say unto him, take away all iniquity, and receive us graciously” (Hosea 14:1-2).

Imagine

Psalm 48 is a vision of a future or end state of the capital of God’s kingdom. The psalmist refers to this city as the “city of God” (Psalm 48:1). Another way of looking at it would be as God’s hometown, the city where he actually lives. It may be hard to imagine God living on earth, but the Messianic name of God, Immanuel, means “with us (is) God” (6005) or God with us.

The amazing thing about Psalm 48 is that it appears to have been written after Israel was taken into captivity. The purpose of the psalm was probably twofold. First, it was a statement of faith that Jerusalem would survive Assyrian attack. Second, the psalm provided hope to those who dared to imagine that God’s presence on earth would one day be a reality.

The ability to imagine themselves as the final victors over every kingdom on earth gave the Israelites strength to endure their most difficult challenge, exile from their homeland. With hopeful expectation, the psalmist stated, “Beautiful for situation, the joy of the whole earth, is mount Zion” (Psalm 48:2). In other words, he wanted us to imagine the city of Good as a bright light that brings joy to the faces of everyone that sees it.

In addition to portraying the city of God as a place of hope, the psalmist also described mount Zion as an impenetrable fortress. The city’s elevation, proximity to the desert, and access to a water supply made it a perfect place of refuge, but the presence of God’s temple made it an intimidating citadel that seemed beyond capture. The psalmist declared, “For lo, the kings were assembled, they passed by together. They saw it, and so they marveled; they were troubled and hasted away” (Psalm 48:4-5).

Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of the city of God is its eternal existence. God’s promise to Abraham and his descendants was that he would give them the land of Canaan for ever (Genesis 13:15). When Jesus establishes his kingdom on earth, it says in Luke 1:33, “He shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever, and of his kingdom there shall be no end.” According to this promise, the psalmist stated, “As we have heard, so have we seen in the city of the LORD of hosts, in the city of our God: God will establish it for ever” (Psalm 48:8).

Trying to imagine a city without end would be impossible if it weren’t for the concept we have of heaven. Even though we can’t see it, we know heaven exists and that it is God’s home right now. Somehow, in the future, heaven and earth will intersect in such a way that eternal life will be natural for human beings. The key to this intersection is Jesus and his triumph over death. As if to explain the need for death to occur before there could be eternal life, the psalmist stated, “For this God is our God for ever and ever: he will be our guide even unto death” (Psalm 48:14).

 

A future kingdom

Just as there is an end to every individual life, so also, there will one day be an end to all life on earth. Life as we know it now on earth is temporary. Some people believe that human life is only temporal, but Isaiah spoke of a kingdom that would have no end, one that would be established for ever (Isaiah 9:7). This eternal kingdom will be ruled by a king referred to as the Messiah or “anointed one” (4899).

Eternal life is typically associated with heaven, a place people go to after they die. While it is true that eternal life comes after death, the end of temporal life on earth, eternal life is not exclusive to heaven. Isaiah said the Messiah’s kingdom would exist “from henceforth even for ever” (Isaiah 9:7). The word translated henceforth, ‘attâh (at – taw´) means at this time or now (6258), so there is a connection between the temporal and eternal aspects of life.

Isaiah said of the Messiah, “there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots” (Isaiah 11:1). The term translated stem, gezer refers to something cut off. Previously, Isaiah spoke of the remnant of Israel “as a teil tree, and as an oak, whose substance is in them” and said, “so the holy seed shall be the substance thereof” (Isaiah 6:13).

The substance of a tree is its trunk, which becomes a stump when it is cut off. Isaiah’s depiction of the Messiah as a branch that shall grow out of the roots of Jesse, was a reference to something eternal coming forth out of something that appears to be dead. Another way of looking at a tree’s trunk/stump is that it contains the essence of life which remains even after the tree has been cut down. Therefore, the substance of the tree’s temporal existence, the trunk, and its eternal existence, the stump, are one and the same.

Isaiah’s description of eternal life on earth was characterized by an absence of conflict in the animal kingdom. He said, “The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid, and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them” (Isaiah 11:6). It is not absolutely clear, but it appears that time will still exist during the period when the Messiah will reign on earth. Isaiah stated, “in that day there shall be a root of Jesse…and it shall come to pass in that day that the Lord shall set his hand again the second time to recover the remnant of his people” (Isaiah 11:10-11, emphasis added).

Typically, a day is a 24-hour period of time, but the Hebrew word yowm (yome) can refer to an entire period or indefinitely long eras of time, as well as, theological categories rather than periods of time (3117). A clue as to which type of day Isaiah was referring to are his statements “For the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD” (Isaiah 111:9) and “the Lord shall set his hand again the second time to recover the remnant of his people” (Isaiah 11:11).

Isaiah was describing the future consummation of the Messianic kingdom, which has yet to be established. Most likely, this will be a period of time when both temporal and eternal aspects of life will be evident on earth. A temporal aspect of this period of time will be people continuing to get saved; the gospel will be preached and people will accept the Messiah as their Savior (Isaiah 12:2-4). An eternal aspect of this period of time is that the Messiah, Jesus will be back on earth. It says in Isaiah 12:6, “Cry out and shout thou inhabitant of Zion: for great is the Holy One of Israel in the midst of thee.”

It’s not the end

“The LORD said to my Lord, sit thou at my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool” (Psalm 110:1). Jesus specifically used this verse to refer to his divine origin (Matthew 24:41-45). In his message about the resurrection of the dead, Paul used this verse to conclude that Christ had defeated all enemies, including death (1 Corinthians 15:25-26).

The issue that I believe David was trying to resolve in Psalm 110 was the eternal nature of God’s kingdom. David had spent most of his life establishing God’s kingdom on earth. In the end, I think he realized that ruling over people was a divine act that only Christ, God in human flesh, was capable of doing.

Part of what makes eternity unfathomable to us is the concept of death. Paul labeled death the last enemy because he wanted us to understand that Satan uses death to change our perspective of life. He wants us to think of life as temporary, something that comes to an end.

David’s view of death is revealed in 2 Samuel 12:20-23. After his child died, David knew he would see him again:

Then David arose from the earth, and washed, and anointed himself, and changed his apparel, and came into the house of the LORD, and worshipped: then he came to his own house; and when he required, they set bread before him, and he did eat. Then said his servants unto him, What thing is this that thou hast done? thou didst fast and weep for the child, while it was alive; but when the child was dead, thou didst rise and eat bread. And he said, While the child was yet alive, I fasted and wept: for I said, Who can tell whether God will be gracious to me, that the child may live? But now he is dead, wherefore should I fast? can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me.

The word translated go in 2 Samuel 12:23 is hâlak (haw – lak´). Halak means to walk. “Essentially, this root refers to movement without any suggestion of direction” (1980). David expected to go somewhere after he died and that he would be able to reconnect with people he had known during his life on earth. David did not perceive death to be an ending, but a continuation of some sort to the life he already had.