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).

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).

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).