WHEN THINGS COME TO AN END THEY WILL CONTINUE ON FOREVER – EITHER IN A STATE OF RECREATION AND ETERNAL LIFE OR A STATE OF CORRUPTION AND ETERNAL SUFFERING
“The Road to the Final Four” has a nice ring of finality to it – the wrapping up of the college basketball season – the 68 team tournament that determines the ultimate champion. How is your NCAA bracket doing? Have you picked mostly winners? Quite a few surprises already – like always. When most things come to an end, they are actually over. That is why you see the coach of Michigan State, Tom Izzo, so emotional as his team gets upset and he deals with the reality that the existence of this team is over. It has been a special group of young men that he has loved coaching – but this team has no future going forward as a team. This is the end of the line.
As we come to our final sermon on the 66 chapters of Isaiah, the eloquent and gifted prophet is wrapping up many of the themes that we have been tracking through the book. The last chapter especially focuses on the alternating emphasis between The Culmination of Judgment and Salvation In the End Times. Each paragraph goes back and forth.
Oswalt: When one observes the book as a whole, the interchange between judgment and hope is unmistakable. . . Here this interchange occurs for the last time, with 15-17 (and v. 24) depicting the fate of those both within and beyond the Israelite community who persist in rebellion against God, and vv. 18-23 depicting the salvation of the nations that will occur as a result of the revelation of God’s glory in both judgment and redemption. Finally, as far as this book is concerned, judgment and hope are inseparable. It is out of judgment that hope emerges, but hope never removes the potential and the reality of judgment
But there is something very unique about this discussion of end times – of God bringing to ultimate fulfillment His purposes for this world and His program for His elect nation – as well as His program for outreach to the Gentile nations.
WHEN THINGS COME TO AN END THEY WILL CONTINUE ON FOREVER – EITHER IN A STATE OF RECREATION AND ETERNAL LIFE OR A STATE OF CORRUPTION AND ETERNAL SUFFERING
This end which Isaiah details in Chap. 66 is actually a beginning of the next phase of the kingdom of God – the glories of the Millennial Kingdom that then merge into the eternal state of a new heavens and a new earth that will endure forever. But sadly God’s painful judgment against those who have rebelled against His gracious provision of forgiveness for sins and salvation will continue on as well into eternity. There is no doctrine of annihilation (as many evangelicals are proposing today) – only the cries of the wicked who must endure eternal punishment – Matt. 25:46.
I. (:15-18a) THE ESCHATOLOGICAL JUDGMENT OF THE LORD IS DETERMINED, DEVASTATING AND DESERVED
A. (:15-16) The Judgment is Determined and Devastating
“For behold, the LORD will come in fire And His chariots like the whirlwind,
To render His anger with fury, And His rebuke with flames of fire.
For the LORD will execute judgment by fire And by His sword on all flesh,
And those slain by the LORD will be many.”
Don’t ever entertain any doubts about future accountability before a powerful God who executes His anger and wrath against sinful rebellion. The words and imagery in these 2 verses could not be any stronger.
Awesome and overwhelming; leaves nothing in its path
His anger finds its target; Holiness and righteousness of God demand justice and judgment
Oswalt: God’s anger is compared to fire several times in this book (10:17; 29:6; 30:27, 30), but in a sense God’s nature in itself is understood as fire (cf. 33:14)
Constable: The judgment in view in verses 15-17 seems to be the one that will take place when Messiah returns to the earth (cf. Zeph. 2:12-14; Matt. 24:22; Mark 13:19-20; 2 Thess. 1:7-9; Rev. 19:11-21).
Motyer: Chariots, an earthly manifestation of destructive power, are symbolic of the irresistible power of the holy God acting in judgment. . . In verse 15 the emphasis falls on holiness (fire, flames of fire) and power (chariots); in verse 16 it falls on the justice (sword, execute judgment) of holiness (fire).
B. (:17-18a) The Judgment is Deserved Because of Worship Abominations
1. Abomination #1 – The Arrogance of Their Worship
“Those who sanctify and purify themselves to go to the gardens,”
Mockery by God here – as if these people are really so concerned about sanctification and purification – ceremonial, pagan, cultic sanctification
Gardens = place of pagan fertility cults = sexual immorality cloaked as religious activity
Motyer: In essence we meet here the people of 65:2-7, 11-12 and 66:3-4: the compromiser and apostates among the Lord’s professing people, those who did not tremble at his word. For when people cease to heed the word of revelation, it is not that they then believe nothing, but that they will believe anything – gardens, pigs, and rats included.
Parunak: Application: God loves gardens. He originally planted one as a place for him to enjoy fellowship with Adam. But we have been cast out of the garden, and for us to attempt to set up a garden of our own to replace it is blasphemy. The places that God has ordained for worship always center around sacrifice that acknowledges our sin and God’s provision for it, not an attempt to regain Eden on our own.
2. Abomination #2 – The Focus of Their Worship
“Following one in the center,”
This is the sin which the Lord detests: substituting for His leadership, some charismatic human leader that is set up in your midst
Cf. Ezek. 8:7-11 describing a secret cult of idolatrous worshipers with “Jaazaniah standing in the midst of them” – the same preposition used “in the midst” – somebody leading them into this apostate worship
Parunak: 2 possible interpretations:
1) In this case, the feminine (the Qere, to be said) probably refers to the Asherah pole at the center of the pagan sanctuary. Their worship is centered around an idol, not the Lord. Clearly such behavior is unacceptable.
2) The masculine (the Kethiv, to be written) also makes good sense. In this case, the reference would be to a person, a priest or other functionary. The people worship as they do because they are following a human leader. This error is somewhat more subtle.
Application: Clearly, putting some other god at the center is wrong. Just as importantly, putting a human other than Jesus of Nazareth at the center is also wrong. All the sanctification and purification in the world will do us no good if the focus of our worship is on the wrong god, or if it is motivated by the charismatism of a human leader and not by the person of the Lord himself.
3. Abomination #3 – The Disconnect in Their Worship = No Heart Obedience
“Who eat swine’s flesh, detestable things, and mice,”
Parunak: The word “abomination” appears 18x in the OT, 11 of these in Lev 11 in describing unclean animals. So he names the general category of unclean foods along with two specifics. For all their worship, when they sit down to eat they neglect God’s dietary laws, and eat the things that God forbids.
4. Their Deserved Destiny
“’Shall come to an end altogether,’ declares the LORD.”
For [I know] their works and their thoughts;”
Borgman: They won’t escape the sword of the Lord; common denominator in judgment passages: always according to works; harshest judgment reserved for hypocrites; e.g. the Pharisees themselves; hypocrite boasts in his own knowledge and in his own progress in religion; form of godliness but denying the power; empty; we must guard our hearts against all forms of hypocrisy; Do you really hate your sin? We are better confessors than we are repenters; the hypocrite is never painfully aware of his need for grace
Oswalt: God’s pronouncement on all human religion and those who practice it is that they and it will all come to a sudden end together. Deep in the human heart is a need to justify ourselves to ourselves. Thus we can take even the gracious gifts of God and make them a means of saving ourselves. The thought of absolute dependence on God, of abandoning our ways for his, is deeply abhorrent to us. If we can feel that we can remake ourselves into his holy image, even by using the methods he has indicated, we can feel a measure of pride and accomplishment. But God’s word on all of that is one of unreserved judgment. We cannot justify ourselves, and all our attempts to do so must fail. Far from commending such behavior, God labels it as only one more form of rebellion, the more pernicious because it is so effectively masked.
Motyer: Hebrew is incomplete here [no verb]: “So much for me, their works and their thoughts: it has come.”
I take this as the conclusion to the above section
II. (:18b-23) THE ESCHATOLOGICAL SALVATION OF GOD’S PEOPLE IS DETERMINED, GLORIOUS AND GRACIOUS
A1. (:18) Establishment of Kingdom Believers for the Recognition of God’s Glory
“The time is coming to gather all nations and tongues.
And they shall come and see My glory.”
Demonstration of God’s great grace
Worldwide emphasis – not just a focus on Israel – 2:2-4
Parunak: only two other places use these two terms together:
Psa 92:5 O LORD, how great are thy works! and thy thoughts are very deep.
Pro 16:3 Commit thy works unto the LORD, and thy thoughts shall be established.
The Psalmist uses the words of the Lord’s thoughts and works, which he adores. Solomon is talking, not about the sinful works and rebellious thoughts of the wicked, but about the mind and actions of someone who is following the Lord. If Isaiah has this verse in mind when he mentions “their works and their thoughts,” then he has moved from the wicked to the righteous. Just as God knows the wickedness of those who follow their own desires, he also watches over those who are committed to him, and the following verses describe the favor he shows them.
B1. (:19) Function of Missionary Outreach in the End Times
Isaiah is a great missionary book; missions is about the glory of God
Parunak: vv. 19-21 outline a series of four events around the theme of the true worship that the Lord desires. The first two of these have already happened. The other two are yet to come.
1. (:19a) Inspired by a Miraculous Sign
“And I will set a sign among them”
Ex. 10:2 “that you may tell in the hearing of your son, and of your grandson, how I made a mockery of the Egyptians and how I performed My signs among them, that you may know that I am the Lord”
Ps. 78:43 – When He performed His signs in Egypt and His marvels in the field of Zion.”
refers to a special miracle; some interpret this to be the coming of Christ; others point to some special end time miracle
Oswalt: it seems best to leave the answer to the question as broad as possible = at the end of the age God would make his power clear in certain miraculous ways, and in so doing call to himself all who are willing to hear
2. (:19b) Commissioned to Declare God’s Glory
“and will send survivors from them to the nations:
Tarshish, Put, Lud, Meshech, Rosh, Tubal, and Javan,
to the distant coastlands that have neither heard My fame nor seen My glory.
And they will declare My glory among the nations.”
Survivors = the Jews who believe in the end times and survive God’s cleansing judgment against Israel
“Send out” = new missionary focus – not trying to attract Gentiles to Israel but outreach to the nations – started with the church but will be intensified with the 144,000 witnesses in the end times – Rev. 7:4
Martin: The remnant of believing Israelites will travel as missionaries to other parts of the world, to tell Gentiles about God’s glory. Those places and peoples will include Tarshish, probably in southwestern Spain, Libyans in northern Africa, Lydians in western Asia Minor, Tubal in northeastern Asia Minor, Greece, and distant islands.
Borgman: 3 categories of God’s glory in book of Isaiah – they overlap:
1) God’s perfections, attributes, manifest presences – 6:3 “the whole earth is full of His glory” = the outshining of His perfections and excellencies; like the rays of the sun beaming out and communicating the warmth of the sun
2) God’s redeeming activity of His people – reaching out and redeeming a wayward people; this is a more narrow demonstration of His perfections and excellencies
3) Manifestation of His own Son – 40:1ff — speaking of the coming of Messiah – “then the glory of the Lord will be revealed and all flesh will see together” — vs. 5; 49:3; 60:1ff
“the Word became flesh and dwelt among us and we beheld His glory”
Apostle Paul (Rom. 15) was the forerunner of the ultimate fulfillment of this missionary movement to the outlying Gentile nations – desiring to go where Christ had not yet been preached – desiring to go to Spain – God’s glory had not yet been declared there; Piper, quoted by Borgman: “Missions exist because worship doesn’t” – the glory of God must be the ultimate motivation for missions
B2. (:20-21) Fruit of Missionary Outreach in the End Times
1. (:20) People in the Role of an Offering to the Lord
“’Then they shall bring all your brethren from all the nations as a grain offering to the LORD, on horses, in chariots, in litters, on mules, and on camels, to My holy mountain Jerusalem,’ says the LORD, ‘just as the sons of Israel bring their grain offering in a clean vessel to the house of the LORD.’”
Oswalt: This final ingathering of the Jews from around the world will be brought by the Gentiles as a precious offering to God. It is hard to imagine what more precious offering could be given to him. The remnant of his own chosen people, now having come to their true fulfillment, will certainly be a priceless gift to him.
2. (:21) People in the Role of Priests Serving the Lord and Administering Worship
“’I will also take some of them for priests and for Levites,’ says the LORD.”
These are some out of the returning Jews, not the Gentiles
Motyer: In New Testament perspective, this final section [vv. 18- 24] spans the first and second comings of the Lord Jesus Christ: his purpose for the world (18), his means of carrying it out (19-21), the sign set among the nations, the remnant sent to evangelize them (19) and the gathering of his people to ‘Jerusalem’ (20) with Gentiles in full membership (21).
A2. (:22-23) Establishment of Kingdom Believers for the Recognition of God’s Glory
1. (:22) Enduring People of God
“’For just as the new heavens and the new earth which I make will endure before Me,’ declares the LORD, ‘So your offspring and your name will endure.’”
Motyer: Guarantee of perpetuity – The blessings of salvation cannot be forfeited, because the Lord has promised that their “name” is as durable as the new creation itself.
Again, as we have mentioned before, there is a mingling of the references to the millennial kingdom period and the eternal state characterized by the new heavens and the new earth
2. (:23) Worldwide Worship
“’And it shall be from new moon to new moon and from sabbath to sabbath,
All mankind will come to bow down before Me,’ says the LORD.”
Motyer: Isaiah ends with the perfect keeping of the two feasts whose corruption distressed him in 1:13. They are feasts, not fasts: the days of mourning are over (65:17-19). Also, the emphasis throughout chapters 56-66 on the Sabbath arose from the fact that this is the commandment which more than any other necessitates the submission of the practical planning of life to the Lord’s timetable, a searching teat of practical holiness (58:13-14).
Constable: Just as surely as God would create new heavens and a new earth (cf. 65:17), so He would preserve the Israelites (cf. 1:2; Gen. 12:1-3).
Parunak: In the opening summary of this passage (v. 18b), the Lord looked forward to the turning of the Gentiles. Now he promises that Israel’s position as his chosen people will persist into the New Heavens and the New Earth that he will establish after the present order is destroyed. This verse guards against any notion that the work of physical Israel ends with Paul’s mission to the Gentiles. Though the Gentiles lead the return and even participate in the temple ministry, Israel’s seed will continue before the Lord.
III. (:24) THE ESCHATOLOGICAL JUDGMENT OF THE LORD IS DETERMINED, DEVASTATING AND DESERVED – AND UNENDING AND REPULSIVE
A. The Judgment is Determined and Devastating and Deserved
“Then they shall go forth and look on the corpses of the men
who have transgressed against Me.”
Picking up the theme from vs. 15-18a and then extending that theme with a couple of additional considerations
God will win out in the end; this is a passage about accountability before Almighty God and ultimate destiny
B. The Judgment is Unending and Repulsive
“For their worm shall not die,
And their fire shall not be quenched;
And they shall be an abhorrence to all mankind.”
This is God’s final answer to those who want to dismiss the concept of an eternal hell where suffering goes on forever and ever
Beall: Two fates: worship of the Lord in the new heavens and new earth or eternal judgment for the wicked (66:22-24). That these promises are certain is emphasized in vv. 22-23, as the new heavens and new earth serve as a demonstration of the faithfulness of the Lord: they will endure. All flesh will ultimately worship the Lord (v 23). But the text does not end there. Those who are worshipping the Lord (v 23) will then look at those who are now dead, but while alive sinned against the Lord. Their punishment is eternal judgment. Jesus uses this passage three times in explaining that hell is a real place, where there will be eternal judgment and pain (Mark 9:44, 46, 48). To deny such teaching is to deny both the OT and NT clear revelation on this subject: hell is real, and the judgment is eternal, for those who reject the Savior.
Martin: This awesome way in which the majestic Book of Isaiah concludes points to the need for unrepentant people to turn to the Lord, the only God, the Holy One of Israel.
Motyer: Remarkably, there is a cemetery beside the city. Always as they come to worship, the redeemed deliberately make themselves face (go out and look), vividly, horribly, the fate from which they have been spared. Such grimness is not out of place in these final chapters of Isaiah. On the one hand, they have been alight with the glory of the new creation, the new city and its new people. But equally, on the other, they have been solemnized by the note of vengeance (59:17; 61:2; 63:4), the winepress of the wrath of God (63:3), the fiery sword of judgment (66:16). It is consonant with this that the worshippers constantly compel themselves to face the consequences of the last battle as they look upon the dead bodies. It is frivolous and wanton to think of the pilgrims “gloating.” In the truest sense of the word, the scene is too awful in its ceaseless corruption (their worm will not die) and unending holy wrath (nor will their fire be quenched). The cause of it all is that they rebelled against me. . .
For certain, the purpose of visiting the cemetery is not to gloat, not even to pity but to be repelled. To see and constantly refresh the memory that these are the consequences of rebellion, and so to turn in revulsion from such a thing and to be newly motivated to obedience by seeing that the wages of sin are indeed death. There is a grandeur about Isaiah not found elsewhere even in the most majestic of the rest of Scripture, a majesty full of gory and of solemnity, plain alike in the revelation vouchsafed to him and the language in which he was inspired to express it. But with the grandeur went a stern resoluteness, that if the glory does not win us to the life of obedience, if visions of the coming King, the sin-bearing Servant and the liberating Anointed Conqueror will not suffice, then maybe the unmistakably horrible rewards of disobedience will drive our wayward hearts to tremble at the word of the Lord.