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A Bible Study by Jack Kelley
Although he wrote during the period of 740 to 700 BC, Isaiah is the prophet most often quoted in the New Testament. He was a prophet to the Southern Kingdom at the same time as Hosea, Amos and Micah. Isaiah was of the tribe of Judah, and according to Rabbinic tradition was closely related to several Kings. He was part of the aristocratic class and may have been raised in the King’s palace in Jerusalem. Often called the greatest of Israel’s writing prophets, Isaiah’s book is exceeded in length only by the Psalms and (just barely) Jeremiah. As the Bible has 66 books Isaiah has 66 chapters, The first 39 of them, equal to the books of the Old Testament, speak of judgment. The last 27, the number of New Testament books, focus on reconciliation and redemption. It’s true that chapter breaks didn’t come along until much later but it’s interesting that even in its form, the Book of Isaiah is a model of God’s word in total.
The sudden change in theme has caused some liberal theologians to ascribe the last 27 chapters, sometimes called the Book of Comfort, to an unknown author they call Deutero-Isaiah. The fact that the last part of the book contains much more in the way of specific prophecy helps them justify this dual authorship, at least to themselves. This is because liberal theology pre-supposes the impossibility of predictive prophecy, and therefore Isaiah couldn’t have known the future. But the Lord Jesus was under the impression that Isaiah wrote the entire book. In John 12:38-41 he quoted from both parts of Isaiah ( 53:1 first and then 6:10) attributing them to the same author. If you need confirming opinions, the Jewish historian Josephus thought so too, and evangelical Christianity overwhelmingly supports the book’s single authorship.
The funny thing is, not only did Isaiah write the whole book, but many scholars believe that a number of his prophetic passages had a dual fulfillment in mind. The first would culminate in the Babylonian captivity, which came 100 years later, while the second was for the end of the age.
Tradition has it that after a long career as one of Israel’s prophets, Isaiah so upset King Manasseh, to whom he was related, that the wicked king had him sawed in half. This is hinted at in Hebrews 11:36-38, part of a passage that speaks of the danger one faced in being a man of God. It reads:
Some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison. They were stoned; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated- the world was not worthy of them.
The last time I did a Bible study on Isaiah we met once a week for 2 hours and it took a year to complete it. In this study we’re only going to look at those parts of the Book of Isaiah that clearly relate to the End Times, which will include the most descriptive passages of Israel’s Kingdom Age to be found anywhere in Scripture. Perhaps this way it will require less time. Let’s get started.
After beginning with a 17 verse litany of Israel’s sins, the Lord had Isaiah plead with the people for a rational discussion of their alternatives.
“Come now, let us reason together,” says the LORD. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool. If you are willing and obedient, you will eat the best from the land; but if you resist and rebel, you will be devoured by the sword.” For the mouth of the LORD has spoken. (Isaiah 1:18-20)
The choice is clear. Willingly obey and be blessed, or resist and rebel and be devoured. This choice was offered them in advance of the Babylonian conquest and it is being offered now.
In Old Covenant times, two goats were brought before the High Priest on Yom Kippur. One was a peace offering and the other was the scape goat. As the High Priest symbolically transferred the sins of the people to the scape goat, a scarlet ribbon was tied from the goat’s horn to a door of the Temple. When the High Priest was finished the ribbon was snipped and the scape goat was led outside the city into the wilderness where it was pushed off a cliff. At the moment of the goat’s death the portion of the ribbon that remained tied to the Temple door turned from scarlet to white in fulfillment of Isaiah 1:18 “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.” This was the sign that the Lord had accepted the sin offering and the peace offering could be made. The nation would be at peace with God for another year.
After the crucifixion, the Yom Kippur ceremony was repeated every year until the Temple was destroyed, but the ribbon never changed color again. The Lord was both our scape goat and our peace offering and had fulfilled the Yom Kippur prophecy in His death. He has taken away our sins (John 1:29) and He is our peace (Ephes. 2:14). The shadow had given way to the reality (Hebrews 10:1) and was no longer effective.
See how the faithful city has become a harlot! She once was full of justice; righteousness used to dwell in her- but now murderers! Your silver has become dross, your choice wine is diluted with water. Your rulers are rebels, companions of thieves; they all love bribes and chase after gifts. They do not defend the cause of the fatherless; the widow’s case does not come before them. (Isaiah 1:21-23)
These verses could have been ripped from current headlines, since Israel’s Prime minister is being forced from office due to his corruption. He’s accused of stealing money, accepting bribes, and improperly receiving gifts.
Therefore the Lord, the LORD Almighty, the Mighty One of Israel, declares: “Ah, I will get relief from my foes and avenge myself on my enemies. I will turn my hand against you; I will thoroughly purge away your dross and remove all your impurities. I will restore your judges as in days of old, your counselors as at the beginning. Afterward you will be called the City of Righteousness, the Faithful City.” Zion will be redeemed with justice, her penitent ones with righteousness. (Isaiah 1:24-27)
The Great Tribulation is compared to a refiner’s fire in Zechariah 13:9 where all Israel’s impurities will be removed and the remnant made pure. In a refinery, silver and gold are heated by fire to their melting point. The impurities, called dross, float to the top and are skimmed off leaving only the purest form of the precious metal.
“But rebels and sinners will both be broken, and those who forsake the LORD will perish. “You will be ashamed because of the sacred oaks in which you have delighted; you will be disgraced because of the gardens that you have chosen. You will be like an oak with fading leaves, like a garden without water. The mighty man will become tinder and his work a spark; both will burn together, with no one to quench the fire.” (Isaiah 1:28-31)
Here’s one of the many places where the Lord makes clear that it’s not our works that will save us, no matter how mighty. Works not done in the strength of the Lord, are like the dross that floats to the top, revealed by the fire. Paul described our works burning in the fire in 1 Cor. 3:10-15, but because of the cross our salvation will not be in danger, as it was in the Old Testament. So while our works may burn, we ourselves will escape. In Isaiah’s day the pagan religions were practiced in groves and gardens. One difference today is that there’s often a beautiful building in the setting.
As is often the case in Isaiah the prophecies of judgment contain a glimpse of restoration. And so chapter 2 begins with the following:
This is what Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem:
In the last days the mountain of the LORD’s temple will be established as chief among the mountains; it will be raised above the hills, and all nations will stream to it.
Many peoples will come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.” The law will go out from Zion, the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore. Come, O house of Jacob, let us walk in the light of the LORD. (Isaiah 2:1-5)
The word mountain is used symbolically here referring to governments, as in Daniel 2:35. As the Kingdom Age begins, Israel will be the single super power on Earth. All other national governments will be subordinate, creating a one world government, headquartered in Israel, with King Jesus at its head. All the world will be subject to God’s laws and the Messiah King will be the final authority on their administration. Psalm 2:9 says that He’ll rule with an iron scepter, and will tolerate no dissent.
In a reversal of Joel’s call to war (Joel 3:9-11) in his prophecy of the Great Tribulation, Isaiah issued a call to peace during the Millennium, saying the Messiah will settle disputes between nations making war unnecessary. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore. This verse is carved over the entrance to the UN building in New York. When the Messiah comes the UN will disappear, but God’s promise will remain and will finally come true.
The temple Isaiah mentioned here is the one so carefully described in Ezekiel 40-46. From Ezekiel we learn that the Temple itself will be situated a few miles north of Jerusalem, and from Zechariah 14:4 we see that the current Temple Mount will disappear in an Earthquake that divides the Mt. Of Olives in half. The gorge created by the earthquake will extend from the Mediterranean Sea to the Dead Sea. Fresh water will emerge from under the Temple to fill the gorge, bringing life to a region that’s been an arid wasteland since the judgment of Sodom and Gomorrah. (Ezekiel 47)
But before those days can come, the world must first endure the worst time of tribulation ever witnessed on Earth. (Matt. 24:21) Isaiah’s first description begins in chapter 2 verse 6 and extends through the end of chapter 3. We’ll begin there next time and before we’re through, you’ll agree that we can almost hear the footsteps of the Messiah