The inner man

God’s main concern when he planned for the people of Judah to be taken into captivity was the condition of their hearts. The relationship God wanted to have with his people was one of love and trust. In order for that to be possible, the people had to be devoted to God and open to his involvement in their lives. The way Jeremiah described this was to use circumcision as an illustration of being dedicated to the LORD. He told the people, “Circumcise yourselves to the LORD, and take away the foreskins of your heart” (Jeremiah 4:4). Moses used similar language when he said, “Circumcise therefore the foreskins of your heart, and be no more stiffnecked” (Deuteronomy 10:16).

The Hebrew words translated stiffnecked, qashah oreph literally mean hard necked or a neck that is unable to bend and be bowed down as in prayer (7185/6203). Looking at this term in relation to the heart, it refers to someone who is hard-hearted, a tough minded person who refuses to submit himself to God. Therefore, to circumcise the heart would mean you cut off behavior that is offensive to God (4135). Jeremiah referred to the cleansing of the heart in connection with salvation. He said, “O Jerusalem, wash thine heart from wickedness, that thou mayest be saved” (Jeremiah 4:14). Typically, a person is only concerned with washing the exterior part of his body. Jeremiah was pointing out that it was the inner man that needed to be dealt with.

Conversion

King David said, “The law of the  LORD is perfect, converting the soul” (Psalm 19:7). What he meant by that was there was contained within the Mosaic Law enough evidence to convict every person of their own sinful nature. Even if you narrowed God’s law down to just the Ten Commandments, everyone would be found guilty. Therefore, the law of Moses was able to bring people in the Old Testament to a place of repentance where they recognized their need for salvation.

Over time, the Israelites’ hearts became hardened and they were unwilling to repent and turn to God. The process of conversion is really a matter of repentance more than anything else. The word convert is translated from the Hebrew verb shuwb (shoob). “The basic meaning of this verb is movement back to the point of departure…The process called conversion or turning to God is in reality a re-turning or a turning back again to Him from whom sin has separated us, but whose we are by virtue of creation, preservation and redemption” (7725).

The life of Manasseh king of Judah illustrates the process of conversion perfectly. Manasseh’s father, king Hezekiah was a righteous  man who trusted God and he was able to prevent Judah from being taken into captivity by the Assyrians, but Manasseh chose to do that which was “evil in the sight of the LORD” (2 Chronicles 33:2). Manasseh not only practiced idolatry, but is says in 2 Chronicles 33:6 that he “observed times, and used enchantments, and used witchcraft, and dealt with a familiar spirit, and with wizards.”

Manasseh had a very negative influence on the people of Judah. As their king, he had the power to force them to worship as he did. It says in 2 Chronicles 33:9-10, “Manasseh made Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem to err, and do worse than the heathen, whom the LORD had destroyed before the children of Israel. And the LORD spoke to Manasseh, and to his people: but they would not hearken.” The prophet Isaiah used the word err throughout his writing to refer to the leaders of Israel causing the people to veer off the course God had established for them, the Mosaic Law.

Rather than punish the entire nation of Judah and undo the good that Hezekiah had accomplished, God chose to single out Manasseh in order to bring him to repentance. It says in 2 Chronicles 33:11-13:

Wherefore the LORD brought upon them the captains of the host of the king of Assyria, which took Manasseh among the thorns, and bound him with fetters, and carried him to Babylon. And when he was in affliction, he besought the LORD his God, and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers, and prayed unto him: and he was intreated of him, and heard his supplication, and brought him again to Jerusalem into his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the LORD he was God.

After Manasseh acknowledged God’s sovereignty and was returned to Jerusalem, he showed evidence of genuine repentance. It says that “he took away the strange gods and the idol out of the house of the LORD” (2 Chronicles 33:15). Manasseh not only stopped practicing idolatry, but he also began to worship the LORD and commanded the people to observe the Mosaic Law (2 Chronicles 33:16). Manasseh’s example of repentance was one of the few seen in the Old Testament, particularly among the kings of Judah and Israel. It could be that his captivity in Babylon was such a horrifying experience that he realized spending eternity in hell was not a good option.

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)

Transformation

If we could see our spiritual condition, we might be shocked to find out we are standing naked before God. It says in Hebrews 4:12-13, “For the word of God is quick and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do.”

The Greek word translated naked in Hebrews 4:13 is gumnos (goom – nos´), which means nude (1131). In other words, Hebrews 4:13 is saying that God can see every person, and in a spiritual sense, some people don’t have any clothes on. Many people are concerned about the clothes they put on their physical body, but never give any thought to clothing themselves spiritually. The only way we can be clothed spiritually is through the process of salvation.

Isaiah’s message to the people of Judah served a dual purpose in that it spoke of two types of salvation. After the people were taken into captivity, they needed to return to the Promised Land and restore the city of Jerusalem. Then, their Messiah would  come and release them from the bondage of sin. Isaiah declared, “The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me; because the LORD hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the broken hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound” (Isaiah 61:1).

Jesus applied these verses to himself in the synagogue at Nazareth when he said, “This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears” (Luke 4:21). Jesus was letting the people know that salvation was available to them in the final or complete sense that they could be free from bondage of all sorts, including the bondage of sin. Isaiah described the results of salvation in terms of transformation. He said it would, “give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he might be glorified” (Isaiah 61:3).

The transformation that occurs when a person is born again is similar to the change that takes place when a caterpillar becomes a butterfly. The same creature takes on a different form that enables it to do different things, to function from a different perspective. A Christian is no longer bound by the physical world, but is able to function from a spiritual perspective. This person no longer stands naked before God. He is clothed by his salvation. Isaiah described it like this:

I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for he hath clothed me with the garments of salvation, he hath covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decketh himself with ornaments, and as a bride adorneth herself with her jewels. (Isaiah 61:10)

At the time of spiritual birth, I believe the LORD gives everyone a new name. An example of this in the Old Testament is when Abram was renamed Abraham (Genesis 17:5) and Jacob became Israel (Genesis 32:28). In the New Testament, Saul’s name was changed to Paul (Acts 13:9). Isaiah said, “And thou shalt be called by a new name, which the mouth of the LORD shall name” (Isaiah 62:2). The Hebrew word translated name here is shem (shame), which means reputation or memory (8034). In a sense, when a person becomes born again, he gets a new reputation. He will no longer be remembered for the wrong things he has done, but for his acts of righteousness.

Isaiah made it clear that a believer’s transformation was intended to bring glory to God. The people of Judah that returned from captivity in Babylon would be the first to experience the joy of redemption and they would prepare the way for the rest of the world to receive salvation. Isaiah declared:

Thou shalt also be a crown of glory in the hand of the LORD, and a royal diadem in the hand of the thy God. Thou shalt no more be termed Forsaken; neither shall thy land any more be termed Desolate: but thou shalt be called Hephzi-bah, and thy land Beulah: for the LORD delighteth in thee, and thy land shall be married…And they shall call them, The holy people, The redeemed of the LORD: and thou shalt be called, Sought out, A city not forsaken. (Isaiah 62:3-4,12)

Spiritual warfare

In the same way that every Jewish person belongs to God, they are his people/servants, so every non-Jewish person belongs to Satan, they are his people/servants. Because we were created with a free will, God gives non-Jewish people the option to switch sides if they want to. We do not have to remain under Satan’s control if we don’t want to.

Salvation is the process whereby Satan’s hold on a person is released, We escape from him. God literally snatches believers out of Satan’s hand (Isaiah 50:2). Even though the Israelites belonged to God, Satan was still able to influence them into disobeying God because of their free will. Therefore, everyone needs salvation.

Isaiah stated, “Behold, the LORD’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither his ear heavy, that it cannot hear; but your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you that he will not hear” (Isaiah 59:1-2). The Hebrew word translated separated, badal means to divide (914) in the sense of cutting or splitting something in two (2673).

To separate something can mean that it is consecrated or set apart for a specific purpose (5144). In this sense, Israel had deliberately separated itself from God in order to worship foreign gods or idols (Hosea 9:10). In essence, they chose to join Satan’s  camp and were enemies of God. That’s why the northern kingdom of Israel was destroyed and its people  removed from the Promised Land.

In order for God’s people and the rest of humanity to become unseparated from God, there needed to be an intercessor, someone that could encroach upon Satan’s territory and set his prisoners free (Isaiah 59:16). Basically, from a military stand point, the Messiah’s mission was to advance over Satan’s territory (area of influence) and make an impression on his people so that they would choose to abandon ship and return to God.

The reason why Satan’s people are referred to as prisoners (Isaiah 42:7; 49:9)  is because they cannot set themselves free. The  power of sin can only be broken by God. The separation that occurs when a person sins is permanent unless God forgives the sin and restores the relationship. Isaiah declared, “Therefore his arm brought salvation unto him; and his righteousness sustained him” (Isaiah 59:16).

Israel’s Messiah was expected to be a warrior, but the people were mistaken about the type of warfare he would engage in. Isaiah described the Messiah in spiritual terms. He said, “For he put on righteousness as a breastplate, and a helmet of salvation upon his head; and he put on the garments of vengeance for clothing, and was clad with zeal as a cloke” (Isaiah 59:17).

The apostle Paul described similar attire for Christians in Ephesians 6:14-17 where he talked about putting on the whole armour of God in order to defeat the devil. Paul explained, “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, and powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places” (Ephesians 6:12).

Somehow, when Jesus came, Israel didn’t recognize its Messiah, even Paul rejected Christ initially. Isaiah talked about “an acceptable time” and “in a day of salvation” when Israel would be redeemed (Isaiah 49:8). Isaiah concluded with, “And all flesh shall know that I the LORD am thy Savior, and thy redeemer, the mighty One of Jacob” (Isaiah 49:26).

Because God intended that his Messiah would save the world, not just his chosen people, his plan of salvation included a period of time when the Gentiles’ sin would be dealt with. Prior to the dawn of Zion’s glory, there would be a period of grace in which salvation would be offered to everyone. Afterwards, God’s people would be redeemed. Isaiah declared:

Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of the LORD is risen upon thee. For behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people: but the LORD shall arise upon thee. And the Gentiles shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising. (Isaiah 60:1-3)

 

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).