Reading through the Bible together
We have come to the final section in Isaiah’s grand Symphony of Salvation in which salvation and judgment, justice and mercy, warning and comfort, consequences and shining hope are inextricably woven together; a symphony where the golden notes of the four Servant Songs turn it into a work ineffably sublime.
Chapters 56-66 comprise God’s special message for the returning exiles who would be released from captivity by Cyrus and sent back home to start again (44:24-28). Broken by the suffering of discipline, they would be “humble and contrite and tremble at His word” (66:2). For these returning exiles it would be a time of high expectation. They would be very excited by the promises of a restored temple and kingdom and the new beginning about to dawn for them.
Yahweh Himself outlines the ideals of a restored community (vv.1-8): a kingdom characterized by justice, righteousness and social responsibility; a kingdom that once again would know the joy of Sabbath-rest (vv.3-8) because they would rely on the promised work of the Suffering Servant. He would bring full salvation to ALL who “bind themselves to Yahweh and love His name” (v.6), including those who had previously been considered to be excluded from it (like eunuchs and foreigners).
But Isaiah needed to prepare God’s people for the difficulties of living in a kingdom that was “now but not yet!” Before God’s kingdom became a glorious reality, his people would have to face immense difficulties. Their attempts to establish a secure and viable community under God’s rule would be fraught with frustration. Sin with all its agony would exist at a personal as well as a corporate level and they would be tempted to become discouraged especially when they realized that they were led, yet again, by ungodly leaders. Isaiah sympathizes with them; he calls their civil leaders blind, dumb, angry watchmen (v.10); their pastors, stupid, stubborn, irresponsible, careless and filled with false optimism (vv.11, 12) .
Isaiah’s message is for us; for all who have lived between Christ’s First and Second Comings.
The tension we feel as we wait for that grand day is expressed in the agonized cry of the souls under the altar, “How long, O Lord, how long?” (Rev 6:10)! Christ came the first time to set up His Kingdom on earth but He warned that we would have to endure many hardships before He would come a second time to usher in His Kingdom of Glory. Until then the kingdom of God and the kingdoms of this world would exist side-by-side. The tension of living in the kingdom that is “now but not yet” is becoming heightened all the time as evil gains ground and becomes more destructive; and as earthly leaders, civil and religious, fit more truly into the Bible’s description of wolves in sheep’s clothing.
We are not to become disheartened or to allow our hearts to grow cold because of all these things. We should focus instead on the certainty of the glorious Sabbath-kingdom God will usher in in the “fullness of time.”
Partners in Ministry Coordinator
Greater Sydney Conference, Australia