Final destination

The Bible often portrays life as a journey that involves traveling along a pathway that leads to a particular destination.  Although there may be several stops along the way, we eventually reach our final destination, which we usually associate with death. Jesus taught that death is not the end of life, but a point in time when the final destination of our lives will be determined or reached. Talking to his twelve apostles about true discipleship and life after death, Jesus said, “if thy hand offend thee, cut it off: it is better for you to enter into life maimed, than having two hands to go into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched: where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched” (Mark 9:43-44).
King David talked about his hope of resurrection after death in Psalm 16. He said, “My flesh also shall rest in hope, for thou wilt not leave my soul in hell; neither wilt thou suffer thy Holy One to see corruption. Thou wilt show me the path of life: in thy presence is fullness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore” (Psalm 16:9-11). At the time of David’s death, salvation was not yet available. That’s why he said, “Thou wilt show me the path of life” speaking in the future tense. According to David, everyone who died went to hell, including himself. Even though David believed in the Messiah, his sins had not yet been forgiven.
The path of life David referred to was a marked-out, well-traveled course to salvation (734/2416). The Hebrew word David used for path, “orach represents a race course rather than a highway or a primitive snake-laden path.” The apostle Paul also used the analogy of a race course for the life of a believer (I Corinthians 9:24). Even though king David never became a Christian in the sense of being born again, he expected to receive his salvation by faith (Psalm 16:9). For David, that meant he would be released from hell, a place where the dead reside. Hell or sheol is “contrasted, in regards to locality, with heaven, the one being regarded as down and the other up. It is spoken of as an abode for those who have departed from the way of life, and have chose the path of evil” (7585).
Isaiah indicated that those who sin against God “have chosen their own ways” (Isaiah 66:3) and will one day have to face the wrath of God (Isaiah 66:16), but his judgment won’t take place until God’s plan of salvation has been communicated throughout the whole world (Isaiah 66:19). The final result of rejection of God’s free gift of salvation is being “cast into the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:15). This is what Jesus was talking about when he referred to hell as  “the fire that never shall be quenched” (Mark 9:43).
In the final words of his prophecy, Isaiah depicted the final destination of those who rejected Christ as one that is visible from Jerusalem. After God creates the new heavens and the new earth, Isaiah declared, “And it shall come to pass, that from one new moon to another, and from one Sabbath to another shall all flesh come to worship before me, saith the LORD” (Isaiah 66:23). Then, as if punctuating the close proximity of heaven and hell, Isaiah went on to say, “And they shall go forth, and look upon the carcasses of the men that have transgressed against me: for their worm shall not die, and neither shall their fire be quenched: and they shall be an abhorring unto all flesh” (Isaiah 66:24).

The elect

One of the issues God had with the children of Israel being his chosen people was their attitude of entitlement. In spite of their disobedience to God’s commandments, the Israelites saw themselves as better than the rest of the world, because they were consecrated to the LORD (Isaiah 65:5). God’s judgment of his people was intended to bring an end to their bad behavior (Isaiah 65:6-7).

God’s primary objective in the captivity of his people was to preserve the Messianic line of descendants until Christ was born. Although the nation of Judah was destined to spend 70 years in captivity, it took much longer to purge the idolatry from the people’s systems. Isaiah described this process in terms of wine making. He said, “Thus saith the LORD, as the new wine is found in the cluster: and one saith, Destroy it not; for a blessing is in it: so will I do for my servants’ sake, that I may not destroy them all. And I will bring forth a seed out of Jacob, and out of Judah an inheritor of my mountains: and mine elect shall inherit it, and mine servants shall dwell there” (Isaiah 65:8-9).

The “mine elect” (Isaiah 65:9) Isaiah was referring to in this passage was the Messiah, Jesus Christ. Upon his birth, Jesus became the heir to the throne of God’s  kingdom, which in Isaiah’s time encompassed only the Promised Land. After the death and resurrection of Jesus, a new covenant went into effect that determined God’s elect or chosen people would no longer be those born into the household of Jacob, but those who accepted Jesus as their Lord and Savior. Isaiah declared of those who rejected Christ, “And ye shall leave your name for a curse unto my chosen: for the Lord GOD shall slay thee, and call his servants by another name” (Isaiah 65:15).

The millennial reign of Christ that begins at the end of the great tribulation will be a time of transition from temporal to eternal life. During that time period, there will still be sinners alive on earth (Isaiah 6:20), but a new system of government will exist that mandates submission to God (Isaiah 32:1). It will be evident at that time that God’s elect are “chosen ones” (972) that have been called into the service of God on an individual basis rather than collectively as a group, as with the nation of Israel. Isaiah declared of these people:

They shall not build, and another inhabit; they shall not plant, and another eat: for as the days of a tree are the days of my people, and mine elect shall long enjoy the work of their hands. They shall not labour in vain, nor bring forth trouble; for they are the seed of the blessed of the LORD, and their offspring with them. And it shall come to pass, that before they call, I will answer; and whiles they are yet speaking, I will hear. (Isaiah 65:22-24)

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).

Lord over all

Isaiah was given the unique opportunity to appear before the Lord in his heavenly throne room. It says in Isaiah 6:1, “In the year that king Uzziah died I saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple. King Uzziah died in 740 B.C., therefore Isaiah’s appearance occurred more than 700 years before the Lord was born. Isaiah wanted everyone to be aware that the Lord was reigning in heaven before he was born on earth. It is important to note that Isaiah did not have a vision, but actually stood in the Lord’s presence.  Isaiah did not refer to God by his personal name, but by his title adonay, which means “Lord” or “Lord over all” (136). “In such contexts God is conceived as a Being who is sovereign ruler and almighty master” (113).

Christ himself assumed the title of Lord during his earthly ministry. “His purpose did not become clear to the disciples until after his resurrection, and the revelation of His Diety consequent thereon” (2962). An interesting aspect of Jesus’ relationship with his disciples is they never referred or spoke to him using his personal name. “The title ‘Lord,’ as given to the Savior, in its full significance rests upon the resurrection, and is realized only in the Holy Spirit” (2962). Given this explanation of the use of the title Lord, it seems clear that Isaiah was in the presence of the Lord Jesus and was commissioned by him to “Go, and tell this people” (Isaiah 6:9) about him.

The message Isaiah was commissioned to preach was the birth of the Messiah. Although there were references to the Messiah before Isaiah’s ministry, no one spoke as openly or plainly about the expected Savior as Isaiah did. A key to understanding the significance of the Messiah is found in Isaiah 6:3 where it says, “The whole earth is full of his glory.” Isaiah’s ministry marked the start of the proclamation of the gospel that still continues today, and will continue, until it reaches every person in the entire world.

In order for Isaiah to fulfill his commission, he had to be equipped to preach the gospel while he was still in an unsaved or unregenerate state. Isaiah proclaimed, “Woe is me! for I am undone: because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips” (Isaiah 6:5). Isaiah received a type of cleansing similar to what is referred to in the New Testament as renewing (Titus 3:5). It says of his sins in Isaiah 6:7, “thine iniquity is taken away and thy sin purged.” Apparently, Isaiah returned to a sinless state, but it probably wasn’t permanent as with salvation or being born again (Romans 11:27).

The last days

After Isaiah presented the LORD’s case against Judah and Jerusalem, he shifted gears and focused on the future. In the transition, Isaiah made it clear that God had given up on Judah’s kings. He no longer expected his people to do his will. Instead, the LORD would accomplish his purposes through a single person, the Messiah, who would once and for all triumph over God’s enemies.

Isaiah described the time period in the future he was referring to as “the last days” (Isaiah 2:2). The term “last days” is used frequently today in connection with Bible prophecy. The last days are always associated with the reign of the Messiah, but there is a discrepancy as to whether or not the last days occur before or after the return of Christ. According to Isaiah’s message, all nations would worship the LORD in the same location (Isaiah 2:2) and God’s law would be the law everyone was judged by (Isaiah 2:3).

Adistinct difference in the last days that indicates this time period has not yet occurred is there will be no war. It says in Isaiah 2:4, “they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nations shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” This description is in stark contrast to what we are experiencing in the world today. At the time when Isaiah delivered his message, Judah’s army played an important role in the lifestyle of its people. The thought that weapons would no longer be needed must have made the people wonder if Isaiah had lost his mind.

Within the context of the last days, Isaiah talked about a day in which “the LORD alone shall be exalted” (Isaiah 2:11, 17). The Hebrew word translated day in this verse is yôwm (yome). Yowm can refer to a 24-hour period of time, but within the context of the last days, Isaiah was most likely focusing on the beginning or initiation of the last days, which would occur when the LORD was exalted over all other rulers on earth. “Yowm can also signify a period of time of unspecified duration” (3117). In that case, Isaiah may have been suggesting that the day of the LORD would begin during the last days and continue on for an indefinite period of time.

A characteristic of the last days that Isaiah made clear was that it would take place on this side of eternity. In other words, time will exist during the last days, so life as we know it will still be going on. With this in mind, it is understandable why the people thought the Messiah, Jesus, would establish his kingdom immediately. The point the people of Judah missed was that God’s kingdom would include everyone. The integration of Jewish and Gentile cultures had not taken place when Jesus was born. Therefore, God had to first make a way for everyone to know the LORD.

For my son, the Messiah

David’s last psalm was dedicated to his son Solomon and was probably given to him after his death. David reveals his expectation that his son would be Israel’s savior. In his prayer, David said, “He shall spare the poor and needy, and shall save the souls of the needy. He shall redeem their soul from deceit and violence: and precious shall their blood be in his sight.

One of the points that Paul the Apostle made about Jesus was that he was “of the seed of David” (2 Timothy 2:8). Paul connected Jesus with David because it was known at that time that Israel’s Messiah would be a descendant of David. The thing that distinguished Jesus from Solomon was that Jesus was raised from the dead, a qualification for eternal life. God’s promise to David was that his son or seed would rule over God’s kingdom for ever (2 Samuel 7:13). Therefore, Solomon could not be the Messiah.

I can understand why David thought Solomon was the promised eternal king of Israel, but I wonder if David realized the pressure he was putting on his son Solomon. Solomon most likely asked God for wisdom and knowledge because there was no way he could be the Messiah without it, but if Solomon thought he could take God’s place in ruling over the people of Israel, he was mistaken. God never intended for a merely mortal man to be Israel’s eternal king. Only God himself could handle that kind of responsibility.

Paul said, “Consider what I say; and the Lord give thee understanding in all things. Remember that Jesus Christ of the seed of David was raised from the dead according to my gospel” (2 Timothy 2:8). What was so profound about Paul’s gospel was not that a man was raised from the dead, but an eternal God became a man. This was the point I believe Paul was trying to make. God’s promise to David was not that his son would live forever, but that the God who lives forever would become David’s son.

Many times in the Bible, the gospel is referred to as a mystery. The Greek word translated mystery, musterion does not mean mystery as we think of it, “but that which, being outside the range of unassisted natural apprehension, can be made known only by divine revelation, and is made known in a manner and at a time appointed by God, and to those only who are illumined by His Spirit. In the ordinary sense a ‘mystery’ implies knowledge withheld” (3466). I believe psalm 72 should have been titled for Jesus, not Solomon.