Isaiah 66:15-24 – Two different eternal destinations

The flip-side of the future hope of restoration for the exiles and beyond that the birth and blessing of the Church that we saw yesterday, is the sobering reality of God’s judgment for those who live in rebellion against him. The judgment in view against the people from the time of exile and even restoration from exile needs to be understood in terms of the wider and greater judgment from God against those who reject him that awaits its full realisation at the return of Jesus. In this second half of the closing chapter of Isaiah warnings of God’s judgment alternate with words that speak of God’s blessing upon those who are faithful to him. Ultimately, what we see here are two eternal destinations presented: one of eternal judgment and one of eternal salvation.

 

We see in verses 15 to 17, in distinction to the joy to be experienced by those faithful to God in the restored Jerusalem, the ungodly are to be the recipients of divine retribution. The language of “fire” and “sword” confirms the severity of this judgment. The promise of the wrath to come is for God’s “foes” from both the Gentile (non-Jewish) world and Israel represented here by those who have indulged in the idolatry of the world.

 

Verses 18 to 21 combine the summons to people from the “nations” to come and behold God’s glory with a missionary commission to God’s people to “proclaim [his] glory among the nations”. In a similar manner to the way in which the Israelites brought their offerings to the temple, so those sent will bring their ‘converts’ to Jerusalem. In this new order Gentiles (non-Jews) will be entitled to a position of service to God. Once again, the full outworking of this vision is the international Church of Jesus!

 

The last three verses of the whole book contrast the enduring “new heavens and the new earth” that God will create and the endless judgment of God for those who are resistant to him. It is worth remembering that in relation to the language of “new heavens and a new earth” in verse 17 of the previous chapter we saw that on one level what was being envisioned was the wonder of the restored exiles experiencing a fresh start so momentous that it would seem to them to be like a new creation and the same is no doubt true here too; however, from our vantage point we are also surely meant to see in both instances  a reference to the literal “new heavens and new earth” of the New Creation as presented in Revelation 21 & 22.

 

The graphic image of God’s enemies lying dead outside Jerusalem points ahead to the ultimate eternal destiny of those who reject him. This material features a reference to a burning inferno and this evidently denotes the valley of Hinnom to the south-west of the city of Jerusalem where the rubbish was left permanently ablaze. Jesus draws on this place, also called Gehenna, on numerous occasions, in order to speak of the place of eternal judgment for those who reject God (see for example Matthew 5:22).

 

Well done for staying the course over the last three months as we have made our way through this incredible book. I hope your vision of God and his amazing purposes have been magnified by all that we have looked at. We started in the first 35 chapters with the prophet calling two different kings to put their trust in God rather than foreign alliances and we saw that Israel and the world needed the advent of the perfect King to come and establish his righteous rule. That was the gist of the first half of Isaiah as the nation faced the threat of Assyria. Then from chapters 40 onwards we saw the prophet envisioning the future exile of God’s people in Babylon but more than that, their restoration back to Jerusalem and the southern kingdom of Judah. We saw that return from exile portrayed as another exodus but most importantly we saw that the crucial work that needed to be undertaken on behalf of these exiles, indeed all humanity, was that which dealt with the problem of sin. We saw that where Cyrus of the future Persian-Mede Empire would be God’s chosen servant to facilitate the return from Babylon for his people, it would another Servant who would deal with the bigger problem of sin. We saw that Isaiah’s prophetic vision in this second main part of the book included the wonder of people coming back to Jerusalem from Babylon but also spoke of realities that would only be realised with the coming of Jesus and the establishment of the New Covenant community, the Church and even the Church as the heavenly Jerusalem in the age to come, the age of the New Creation! How do you follow that? Well, tomorrow we’ll have a look at book of the Bible that presents the wonder of Jesus having come in the flesh!

 

Prayer: Let’s thank God for all He has revealed to us over these last 3 months. Praise Him for his generosity, favour, kindness and faithfulness to us. Make a note of one thing that He has revealed to you over this time. Praise and thank Him for it in prayer.

Songs: 10000 Reasons   Joyful, Joyful