What does the Future Hold?
Isaiah has already been looking forward as he spoke to the people of his own day. They were living lives of peaceful indifference seemingly unaware of the great danger that they were in. That danger, Isaiah told them, would include the horrible experience of exile in Babylon. But Isaiah's message is not one that ends with the gloomy prospects of painful discipline for the people of God. God's anger towards them will pass and the exile will be brought to an end.
But what would that return look like? What did the future hold for God's people?
In this and the following chapters with which the Book of Isaiah closes we are presented with a picture of staggering proportions.
Isaiah looked forward and foresaw in the sovereign providence of God a magnificent vision of what God had in mind to provide for his people. Yes, Isaiah saw a return of his contemporaries from Babylonian exile but his description of the blessings to come stretches much, much further into the future and concerns not just the people of Israel but the entire church of God in eternity.
Isaiah stands like a man looking at a range of mountain peaks which grow ever higher – from his distance he isn't conscious of the different individual peaks along the way he is simply bowled over by the grandeur of the vista that has been brought before his eyes!
As we consider his description of this wonderful future that God has for his people may we too be similarly impressed and encouraged!
Isaiah begins his description of the future glory of God's people by contrasting their blessing with the state of the nations round about them.
The nations of the world are naturally living their lives in heathen darkness: they don't know where they are and they don't know which way to go. Now that had been part of the people of God's own experience (cf.Is.59:10) but all that would change for them – not because of any inherent qualities they might lay claim to but because the LORD chose to be gracious to them!
God had come and made his glory known to his people and what a blessing that was! It was a blessing that would totally transform them and it was a blessing that would be made evident to the nations that surrounded them. God's presence in glorious light would serve to draw others as a magnet because God in the midst of his people is an attractive thing.
In the NT Jesus used this same picture as he taught his disciples in his Sermon on the Mount:
And God's presence with his people in this way leads to an amazing growth in the church as people flock in from all around!
The church needs to take note of this because in doing so joy and excitement will be the inevitable outcome. Isaiah calls upon his hearers to deliberately lift up their eyes that they might see what God is doing. We need to do the same or else we may well miss what it is that the LORD is doing.
On a practical level we can be tempted to look at the state of the church in the UK with small and declining congregations and wrongly conclude that the church's future is bleak – but world-
We are perhaps somewhat blasé when it comes to thinking about the international nature of the church of God but to the Jews of Isaiah's day the whole idea of foreign nations being able to benefit from God's salvation was radical.
When it comes to the Christmas story we are used to thinking of wise men or kings coming from the east but to the Jews the east stood for everything that was away from God – without God and without hope in the world. There are possibly hints here in Is.60 of that visit of the wise men as Isaiah speaks of gold and frankincense being brought by men who were eagerly looking for the new born Messiah-
As God shines on and through his people he draws men from the nations to himself. In his purposes God had determined that he would make the church a beautiful one and he would work to bring that about. The church would be a place to where the wanderers could return home as doves returning to their dovecote. The church designed to be attractive would be made so by the LORD and this divinely bestowed beauty would indeed attract others.
Those who had formerly been enemies – the foreigners of v.10 -
Isaiah's language continues to be full of imagery – we will miss its meaning if we insist upon a limiting literal interpretation. Look for example at v.11:
"Your gates shall be open continually; day and night they shall not be shut, that people may bring to you the wealth of the nations, with their kings led in procession."
The gates of a city would usually be closed when night came for reasons of security but now for a variety of reasons those gates will never be shut says Isaiah:
There is no danger any more for the people of God for God is present to bless
The flow of people into the city is incessant and people are always entering
There is no longer any night because the LORD is all the light his people need
The fact that gates stand ever open means that we can come in, that all may come in! Now is the Day of salvation and there is still the possibility of being reconciled to God through Jesus Christ.
And yet there is a somber note to be sounded too. While "whoever will" may come not all will want to come. Entry through the open gate is for those who will come humbly, who will come repentantly, who will come recognizing that God, the Holy One of Israel, is in the place. The LORD himself guarantess the beauty of the church and his beauty is the beauty of holiness – the sinner must leave his sin if he would enter here:
There always was and there always will be but one way of salvation – here Isaiah is telling us the exact same truth in just a slightly different manner. And that salvation is open even to old and stubborn enemies of the church as God conquers and convinces and brings them in. Just think of Saul of Tarsus, that chief of sinners who knew himself to be unworthy because he had persecuted the church.
Oh yes, the past may well have been difficult at times for the people of God – it may still be difficult today because not all of Isaiah's prophecy has been as yet fulfilled – but the future is a wonderful one because God has committed himself to her future.
Isaiah once more uses figurative language as he describes the blessings that are coming the church's way – his images are meant to bring thoughts of wealth and richness into view:
The church is to be made majestic
The church is to be filled with a never fading joy
The church is be richly supplied with rich fare – milk of the nation, nursed at the breast of kings
The church is to enjoy a deep experimental knowledge of God who is their Lord, their Saviour, and their Redeemer
The Best is Yet to Be
Isaiah's vision sees things just going on and getting better and better – bronze gives place to gold, iron to silver etc. etc. and other blessings are spelt out too.
An end to violence and destructive loss
The picture that Isaiah paints has moved well beyond the realm of earthly blessings – heaven is now clearly in view as Isaiah declares the sun and the moon to be no longer of any importance.
And why is this the case?
Quite simply it is because the LORD God is the church's light and the church's glory – and this is a light that will never be extinguished.
And not only this but all mourning will have come to an end as the LORD wipes away his people's tears. Isaiah had already spoken of this aspect of salvation way back in ch.25:8:
"He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the LORD has spoken."
The same imagery is taken up by John in the Book of Revelation:
Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, "Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from here have they come?" I said to him, "Sir, you know." And he said to me, "These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
"Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.""
Do you see the similarities between this passage and that of Isaiah? Once again there is a surprising growth amongst the nations and once again there are the astonishing blessings that are to be enjoyed by the church in the presence of the Lord.
Further along in Revelation John returns to this vision of heaven:
The Character Traits of the Inhabitants of Heaven
Before we can finish with this wonderfully encouraging chapter of the prophet Isaiah we must take note of one more thing.
Isaiah has already described the way in which men enter the Kingdom – they all must come humbly and in repentance -
"Your people shall all be righteous;"
Of course to Isaiah this was obvious, indeed how could it be otherwise?
For this people is "the branch of(his) planting, the work of his hands." v.21. Such a holy people would bring glory to the God who had saved them! And it is because of the LORD's determination to be glorified that we can be confident about this wonderful future. It is the LORD's honour that is at stake and he has pledged himself to act.
"in its time he will hasten it."
God's timetable and ours do not necessarily coincide and we consequently must learn patience. We must wait but with real expectancy too. Jesus came into the world at the fullness time (Gal.4:4), he died for us at the right time (Rom.5:6) and if there is delay now before he comes again it is only a gracious delay revealing the Lord's patience with sinners allowing the time for all the elect of God to repent and be saved (2Pet.3:9).
This is what God has prepared for his people. This is what our salvation is leading towards. It is all the LORD's doing and surely it is marvelous in our eyes. So let us rejoice and be glad and let us be sure that we do not neglect such a great salvation!