A Year in the Gospel #4
It would not be unfair to the other prophets, nor flattery to Isaiah, to call the book of Isaiah the pinnacle of Israel’s prophetic books. Isaiah rises above the other voices to a high majesty, glory, and splendor that adorns not only the promises of the Old Testament but dominates and drives forward the writings of the New Testament. As indicated in the previous post, we saw how Isaiah 40 acts as a hinge upon which the book turns, and the pages, with every turn, bear ever more glorious promises of the Good News.
Isaiah 40-66 focuses upon the great deliverance that the Lord would work by bringing Israel out of its captivity in Babylon and restoring the people of God and their fortunes in the land of promise. And yet, Isaiah is regularly carried above and beyond the immediate rescue from Babylon and up to greater deliverances.
In Isaiah we see the term gospel or good news (euangelion) take on great significance, and which later John the Baptist, Jesus of Nazareth, and the Apostles would pick up and pour into it the life and death of Jesus, which we will later see. Upon a reading of Isaiah, in light of the New Testament, it is quite impressive how much of this prophet of the Old underlies the whole of the New.
Here are the passages which in the English we most clearly see Isaiah speak of good news. Of all these, four of them, if you know the New Testament well, will sound very familiar. Isaiah 40 is picked up in the beginning of Mark’s Gospel, 1:1-15. Isaiah 52:7 is used by Paul to refer directly to those who proclaim the Gospel of Christ (Romans 10:14-17). Isaiah 60:6 certainly hearkens to the three magi and their gifts to the infant Christ (Matthew 2:9-12). And Isaiah 61:1 is the very passage that Jesus himself picked out and read in the synagogue as the heart of his own mission (Luke 4:18-19). Here they are:
Isaiah 40:9 “Go on up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good news; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good news; lift it up, fear not; say to the cities of Judah, 'Behold your God!'”
Isaiah 41:27 “I was the first to say to Zion, 'Behold, here they are!' and I give to Jerusalem a herald of good news.”
Isaiah 52:7 “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, 'Your God reigns.'”
Isaiah 60:6 “A multitude of camels shall cover you, the young camels of Midian and Ephah; all those from Sheba shall come. They shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall bring good news, the praises of the Lord.”
Isaiah 61:1 “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;”
This Good News that Isaiah declares to is full of great truths and rich promises. Here are a few of them:
First, it is the LORD God of Israel alone who can save (Isaiah 43-45), “I, I am the LORD, and besides me there is no savior” (Isaiah 43:11). This is why the New Testament’s claim that Jesus is the Savior leads inevitably to the formulation of the divinity of Christ. God, and God alone, can save. And we need to remember this ourselves time and time again both in light of our own rescue and the rescue of others. This is hope for you and me, God saves us. If He is doing the work, how can it fail?
Second, God is going forgive His people and restore them to a flourishing land of promise with the banners of the City of the Lord, Zion, flying full from its walls. This is the good news of which the mountains are to sing. Jerusalem’s walls will be strong but her gates will be open. The wealth of the nations will flow in. The kings of the world will enter to worship. The ships will bring their treasures to Zion. Isaiah speaks gloriously of this time: “they shall call you the City of the LORD, the Zion of the Holy One of Israel… I will make you majestic forever, a joy from age to age” (Is 60:14-15). All of this adding up to demand a future for God’s people that we even yet now wait for, the millennial kingdom after the triumph of the Gospel.
Third, God will save not only the people of Israel but also all the peoples of the earth who attach themselves to the God of Israel. Here we see the future salvation of the Gentiles implied. “I will gather yet others to him besides those already gathered” (Is 56:8).
Fourth, Isaiah gains a glimpse of a restoration that surges and bounds over the mere return of Israel to the renewal of everything. “For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in that which I create; for behold, I create Jerusalem to be a joy, and her people to be a gladness” (Is 65:17-18). Thus, the ancient origins of John’s vision of a New Jerusalem at the center of a new heavens and a new earth. The Good News is cosmic, universal, comprehensive: everything will be remade.
Fifth, the work of the LORD to deliver will be centered upon the form of a servant of the LORD. This mysterious figure at the center of many debates over interpretation will be at the heart of God’s work. This servant will have the Spirit of the Lord, he will bring justice to the nations, and in those marvelous words, “a bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench” (Is 42:3). This Servant will be high and exalted, and wise, and also, to the astonishment of all, he will be despised, rejected, smitten, wounded, and crushed: “and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Is 53:6).
And through this work, the servant will save: “Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities” (Is 53:11).
Isaiah 53 will be used more than a little in the New Testament. Indeed, all these promises undergird the proclamation of the Gospel of the New Testament, and it is, as we have seen, a glorious, rich Gospel indeed.