Jesus Christ stands today in the marketplace of ideas, philosophies, and religions, calling to people that he himself crafted to repent of their sins and find salvation in him as their Savior. Billions of people around the world are bustling through their lives, imprisoned in an invisible dungeon of deception that Satan, the god of this age, has crafted for their eternal destruction. The church in the West faces the challenge of proclaiming Christ as the only hope to an increasingly hostile audience, a postmodern and pluralistic people who challenge all claims of exclusive truth. How do we Christians know that our faith is the only true faith and that our Savior is the only hope for every nation on earth? What is unique about Christianity that makes it stand alone above the marketplace of ideas?
The strongest answer to that vital question is this: the supernatural nature of the Bible in its clear testimony to Jesus Christ. The Bible is most clearly supernatural in its eternality, its ability to rise above time and predict the future. The prophets, empowered by the Spirit of God, stood outside of time and clearly saw vital aspects of human history, past, present, and future. We humans are locked in time, following a linear progression: “There was an evening, and there was a morning: one day . . . the second day . . . the third day” (Gen 1:5,8,13). There is a beginning, and there is an end. James says we do not even know what will happen tomorrow (Jas 4:14). How could we possibly predict events that will take place centuries from now? Yet this is exactly what the prophet Isaiah did. He stood as if he were on a mountaintop and looked ahead over misty mountain ranges, peak upon peak of future events. And as one looks out over such peaks, they appear as if they were layered right on top of each other, though they are separated by dozens of miles. So also Isaiah could see distant future events on top of each other, as if they were side by side, though they were separated by many years: both Judah’s victory over Assyria and their future exile to Babylon, both the rise of Babylon and its fall, both the destruction of Jerusalem and its rebuilding. The eternal God knows the end of history from the beginning and has revealed the future to his servants, the prophets. Only Christianity has this gift of predictive prophecy so clearly fulfilled in the pages of history. There are no such Hindu prophecies, or Buddhist or Muslim. None of those competitors in the marketplace of ideas can point to verifiable prophecies that have been fulfilled in space and time. But Isaiah the prophet, empowered by the Holy Spirit, made hundreds of such predictions, telling things before they happened, “so that when it does happen you may believe” (John 14:29). Isaiah stood over the nations of his time and spoke their future, and his words came to pass.
Still, the clearest and most powerful visions Isaiah had were of Christ. Moses courageously left a comfortable life of sin in Egypt’s palaces to suffer with God’s people because he “saw [Christ] who is invisible” (Heb 11:27). Isaiah saw him too, only with much more vivid detail. The Spirit enabled ungodly Balaam to say of Christ, “I see him, but not now; I perceive him, but not near” (Num 24:17). How much more clearly did the godly prophet Isaiah see Christ, enthroned and glorious (Isa 6:1) before he was incarnated (John 12:41)? This commentary is an attempt to capture through Christ-centered exposition of Isaiah the message and the mission of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
I believe in the Holy Spirit’s inspiration of every word of Isaiah (2 Tim 3:16; 2 Pet 1:21). In the text of Isaiah, God openly claims to be the only one who can decree, declare, and determine the future by his sovereign power (41:21-29; 46:10), the only one who makes a plan that cannot be thwarted and has a hand that stretches out over all nations (14:26). Therefore, I reject the antisupernatural bias of scholars who must have a “Second Isaiah” (or even a “Third Isaiah”) because they cannot accept how any human could name Cyrus as Israel’s deliverer more than a century before his parents named him (44:28; 45:1,13). Bible-believing Christians have no such problem. We know that God has spoken through the prophets.
At our church we teach people to share the gospel in a four-part outline: (1) God, (2) Man, (3) Christ, (4) Response. No Old Testament prophet so vividly saw and so richly proclaimed these themes as did Isaiah. After his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ taught his disciples the prophetic foundation of his work of salvation:
This is what is written: The Messiah would suffer and rise from the dead the third day, and repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in his name to all the nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. (Luke 24:46-48)
Isaiah was the foremost of those by whom this salvation plan and its spread was predicted in writing.
Isaiah proclaims an awesome God, dwelling in a high and holy place (57:15), enthroned in heaven and the earth is his footstool (66:1), enthroned above the circle of the earth and all its people are like grasshoppers (40:22). All the nations are as dust on the scales and like a drop from a bucket (40:15). He created the universe alone (44:24) and rules completely alone; he will not share his glory with any created being (42:8). He has made a plan for the whole world, and he has the sovereign power to execute his plan to the smallest detail with his mighty, outstretched hand (14:26). He created the human race for his own glory (43:7), forms each person in his or her mother’s womb (44:2), and has spoken laws by which we are to be governed and judged (33:22). With justice he will judge every nation and all individuals on earth (59:15-16). He displays his love in his gracious care for all his creatures (34:14-15), and he displays his fierce wrath against all transgressors of his laws (13:9). It is this God who sent his only begotten Son into the world to bring salvation to the ends of the earth (49:6).
Human beings were created in the image of God, formed for his glory and pleasure (43:7). We joined Satan in his arrogant rebellion against God’s sovereign rule (14:13-14) and fell into total depravity through our sin. The sins of religious Israel, despite its endless machinery of old-covenant religion, are repugnant in God’s sight (1:11; 66:3); these people honored God with their lips, but their hearts were far from him (29:13). The sins of the pagan nations, who follow idols and carry their burdensome and lifeless gods, will sink them into the grave (45:20; 46:1). No one is righteous in God’s sight; all our best actions are like filthy rags (64:6). Even the godly prophet Isaiah proclaimed, “Woe is me for I am ruined” when he stood in the presence of the holy Judge (6:5). Our endless sacrifices and fasts are worthless because of our heartless oppression of the poor and our callous indifference to the glory of God (58:3-4). We are in danger of eternity in endless burning under the just wrath of God (33:14; 66:24).
Isaiah had the clearest vision of the preincarnate Christ of any Old Testament prophet. He saw him seated on a throne, high and exalted, whose holiness is the endless wonder of the godliest angels (6:1-3). Christ would be born of a virgin and be Immanuel, “God with us” (7:14). He would be born a child, a son of David, to be our Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace, and the government of the world would be on his shoulders (9:6). He would spring up like a shoot from Jesse’s stump and be anointed with the Spirit of God so that he can rule the nations justly (11:1-5; 61:1). He would live a sinless life (53:9) and do great signs and wonders of healing (35:5). As the “Suffering Servant” (49; 50; 53), he would die an atoning death: “We all went astray like sheep; we all have turned to our own way; and the Lord has punished him for the iniquity of us all” (53:6). No chapter in the entire Bible so clearly expounds the principle of substitutionary atonement by which Jesus Christ saves sinners as does Isaiah 53. And Isaiah also makes it plain that Christ would rise from the dead (53:11), destroying death forever (25:7). And by his gentle care of “bruised reeds” (broken-hearted sinners) and his proclamation of peace, he would gradually build a kingdom (42:1-4). By his relentless zeal for the holiness of his bride, he will continue to speak to her until she is perfectly glorious (62:1). But his terrifying wrath will consume all the wicked rebels who oppose his kingdom, bringing just vengeance on them all (63:1-4).
No book in the Bible so clearly exposes the falsehood of salvation by religious works (1:11) as does Isaiah. It is by repentance and faith alone (30:15) that sinners are justified in the sight of such a holy Judge. This faith is a gift of God’s revelation to the elect (53:1). Good works cannot save us (64:6); faith in Christ alone can. God dwells in a holy place but also with broken-hearted, humble sinners who reject their own righteousness and trust in Christ alone (57:15). After we are justified (53:11) and transformed by grace, God then calls us to a lifetime of good works in the pattern of his holy law (1:17).
Isaiah also clearly predicted the spread of the gospel from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth. Through him we hear God the Father say to his eternal Son,
It is not enough for you to be my servant raising up the tribes of Jacob and restoring the protected ones of Israel. I will also make you a light for the nations, to be my salvation to the ends of the earth. (49:6)
The worldwide spread of the gospel of Jesus Christ would begin in Jerusalem, for the law would go out from Zion. And many peoples would “come to Zion” (the city where God dwells with his redeemed people) spiritually by their faith in Christ, and would also say, “Come,” to their surrounding lost neighbors (2:3). So this message of Christ would spread to the distant coastlands and the furthest islands (66:19). The vast wealth of the nations will flow into “Zion” (the heavenly Jerusalem) by the conversion of the elect from all over the earth (60:5-7). The final triumph of the gospel will be a multitude of the redeemed from every nation on earth in the new heavens and new earth, who will eternally worship God. The terror of eternal hell will be visible to them, feeding forever their sense of God’s lavish grace to them in Christ (66:22-24).