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12 May. Isaiah chapters 59-63
Towards the end of this book of prophecy, the style becomes ‘apocalyptic’. Which does not mean it is all about terror and vengeance (though there is some of that, in chapters 59 and 63). But like other apocalyptic works in the Bibles such as Daniel and Revelation, there seems to be a conflating of the way God was working in the prophet’s own time, and what will happen at the end of history, the day of judgement. Some of the descriptions of ‘Zion’ here refer to the earthly Jerusalem, being rebuilt by those who had returned from Babylon. Some are clearly references to the future Kingdom of God when day and night have ceased to be, and God himself is the light of his people. That is the vision of St John at the very end of the Bible, and Isaiah caught it too.
We see more clearly than ever now that when God comes to rescue his people from either external oppression or their own sins, whether in the ‘here and now’ or at the final judgement, he will restore ‘justice’ (more than legalism, rather fairness, wholeness and harmony), a word that occurs throughout Isaiah and especially in these chapters. At those times, two things always happen: those who are open to God’s justice and have repented of their sins will experience his coming with joy and a sense of liberation. And those who have resisted justice and ignored God, and have let sin take over their lives, will experience it as terrible judgement – God “treading the grapes of wrath” (63:3, one of those well-known quotations that I had not realised was from the Bible until I came across it here). There is no chance given at that time to change sides – we will be judged on our relationship with God as it has been until this moment. That is why there are many verses in the Bible along the lines of “now is the day of salvation” or “seek the Lord while he is near”. The old billboard sign “repent, for the end is nigh” may be a simplistic and in many ways negative way of summarising the Gospel message, but it is still true.
In between these two visions – of the rebuilt worldly city of Jerusalem and several centuries of prosperity, and the final day of judgement – comes Jesus. Of course he is not named here, except in the sense that his very name Yeshua means something like ‘God saves’, which is a good summary of these chapters. But it is recorded by Luke that at Jesus’ first sermon following his baptism in the Spirit, he read the beginning of chapter 61 of Isaiah (“The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed …”) and told people that it was being fulfilled even as they listened. He knew that he was the Messiah, the suffering servant that Isaiah had seen in his visions, and that his role was indeed to bring in the “year of the Lord’s favour” in anticipation of the end times when justice would finally be brought to bear.
So, if you have not already turned to Jesus, now is the time to do so, to experience the day of God’s favour, and be ready for when he comes again in glory.