Friday, 17 October 2014

(291) October 18: Isaiah 65-66 & 2 Thessalonians 1

Ask God to open your mind, heart and will to understand, delight in and obey what you read.

To discover:­
As you read note what we learn about the church age and the glory to come.

To ponder:
Chapter 65 begins with God declaring how he revealed himself to Israel despite her not seeking or calling on him. This probably refers to his original creation of the nation through Abraham and in Egypt (65v1). The point is that they cannot blame God for their coming exile. His action from the start is evidence that he always acted in grace. Paul applies this principle to God revealing himself to the Gentiles too (Rom 10v20). God continues, stressing that he constantly held out his hands to Israel despite her being obstinate and provoking him with her idolatrous worship, disobedience of his cleanliness laws, and hypocrisy in warding others off for fear that they would be contaminated by them. No doubt, God held out his hands through the prophets, calling the people to take them in repentance. But not having done so, he is now clear: They cause him to fume with anger (65v2-5). And so he will pay them back the full payment for their sins and those of previous generations. And the certainty of this seems stressed by it being “written before” God – perhaps this oracle that decrees judgement (65v6-7). God’s is incredibly patient ad longsuffering. But he will judge in the end.
            65v8-10 declares, however, that God will not destroy all his people, as he has some fruitful servants (the remnant) on the vine of Israel. Indeed, he will bring forth more grapes (descendents) who will inherit the land and seek him. But those who forsake him, forget Zion, and engage in the occult, he will destine for destruction because they did not respond to his call (65v11-12). Whereas his faithful servants will eat, drink, rejoice and sing, their experience will be the opposite. Indeed, it will be so bad for them, that their name (reputation) will be left as a curse, in which people would say “may it be to you as it was to the unfaithful Israelites.” By contrast, the faithful will have another name – ie. their reputation and experience will be markedly different. And from then, those in the land will rely on God’s truthfulness in their blessings and oaths, because their sin and its consequences will have been forgotten by them and hidden from God, showing that he keeps his word (65v13-16). This is a certainty for those who trust in Christ.
            What follows displays how completely forgotten those things will be: God will create a new heavens (the sky, including stars etc) and earth in which the former things won’t be remembered. This is new as in renewed rather than replaced, as the stress here is on Israelites still living in the land and still having Jerusalem in some sense. It will still be this earth (see Mat 5v5, Rom 8v19-21). Moreover, Isaiah cannot be speaking of absolute forgetfulness, as there must be some awareness if God is to be praised for his grace, and we are encouraged we will meet our loved ones again (1 Thess 4v13-18). The point is, that the distress and shame of the past will have faded from our minds. And so Isaiah’s hearers are called to rejoice in the future in which he will delight in Jerusalem and its people will no longer weep. v20 needs thought as seems to imply childbirth and death will remain. Some argue it therefore refers to a glorious period of history before the final state. However, v17 tells us this is after the new creation comes into being. Others suggest God is figuratively using concepts the Israelites would understand to describe the reversal of the curse in Eden. But it is hard to explain why, as he was prepared to talk of the removal of death earlier in Isaiah (25v7-8). Most likely to my mind, v20 therefore refers to the present age from the perspective of the age to come. So, there will be no more of the particular grief that now comes with premature death. Indeed, because we will be immortal we will consider those who lived to a hundred in this age to have still been mere children, and those who didn't live that long, to have been especially cursed not to even get that far. And what will life be like in the new creation? Homes and vineyards will no longer be taken from them through war or financial disaster (v21-22), so God's people will be able to enjoy the fruit of their labours without it ever being lost. The point is that the curse of childbearing and work (Gen 3v16-19) will have passed, as the faithful and their descendents (who also prove faithful) will be blessed by God - a blessing seen in his readiness to answer their prayers even before asked (v24, see Matt 6v8). More than this, on Mount Zion (Jerusalem), there will be harmony between animals, and the serpent (Satan) will eat dust, ie. experience his humiliation and defeat (v25). In other words, this future life will be a continuation of the sort of life we experience in this world, but perfected - a life of blessing, peace, security, harmony, flourishing and joy. We will need to decide from wider scripture whether we think there will be a literal Jerusalem and vegetarian animals!
            Returning either to Isaiah’s day, or looking ahead to the rebuilding of the temple after the exile, God speaks of his immensity, in which he is enthroned in heaven with his footstall on earth. This brackets the body of the book with Isaiah’s vision in 6v1. The point is that despite the existence of the temple, none can really build a house for him as God made everything (66v1-2). This is a reminder that although the temple rituals display the attitude of worship God seeks, the essence of what he looks for in worshippers is humility, sorrow for sin and fearful reverence for God’s word – presumably, not just his law, but these prophecies. So the ungodliness of God’s people meant that their offerings were actually the equivalent of serious sin, uncleanliness with respect to worship, and idolatry. Indeed, they so delighted in their abominations and refused to respond to God’s call through his prophets, that he declared that he would choose harsh treatment for them (66v3-4). It’s another reminder of how much God detests the hypocrisy of worship in those who are unrepentant and who neglect his word.
            Next God address the faithful. Their fellow Israelites who hate and exclude them whilst speaking piously of God’s glory and joy, will be shamed and repayed. The note about uproar in the city and temple looks to their destruction by Babylon, or if post exile, to some future destruction (66v5-6). By contrast, God stresses that the children Zion gives birth too – ie. his faithful remnant, will be born speedily and painlessly because God is in charge of the delivery. Its striking how true this is, when one considers it occurs as he brings us to faith in Christ. So those who love and mourn over the coming destruction of Jerusalem can also rejoice and be glad for her, for they will be nursed by her – implying there will be abundance to enjoy within a new Jerusalem (66v7-11). And so God promises Jerusalem peace or wholeness, and the wealth of the nations like a river and stream, which were the life source for any city. And by this means, her children will be fed, carried and comforted, and also find joy like the child on its mother’s knee. On seeing this, God’s servants will rejoice and flourish, seeing God’s hand acting for them, whilst his enemies witness his anger, as he comes like a heavenly warrior to judge all men (66v12-16).
In what follows God summarises Israel’s entire future in a few paragraphs (66v1-24): He declares Israelites who engage in idolatry and unclean acts will meet their end, and, as if to make up for their loss, he will gather non-Israelites from all nations to see his glory. Having set up some “sign” amongst the Israelites, he will send some of those who aren’t destroyed (presumably because they are repentant) to proclaim his glory to the nations. And those from the nations will then come to Jerusalem bringing Israelites with them as an offering to the LORD. Shockingly, God will even select some of them to be priests and Levites – ie. those who minister in whatever is the equivalent of the temple. And so God will have ensured not only that the “name” and so reputation of Israel will endure forever before him in this remnant, but those from all mankind will forever bow before him. However, they will see those who rebelled outside the city in a never ending destruction (66v1-24). This is all an astonishing fit with the church age, in which Jesus outlined a series of events as a “sign” of the destruction of Jerusalem in AD70 (Lk 21v7-24), repentant Jews became the first Christians and took the gospel to the nations, who in turn shared it with Jews who have joined them in coming to the new Jerusalem through faith. And God has made many of those Gentile ministers of the church, his spiritual temple. Here we might note Paul’s stress on word ministry as a priestly ministry whereby people are offered to God (66v20, Rom 15v16).

Praying it home:
Praise God for how he has eventually fulfilled his purposes despite Israel’s sin and failure to attract the nations to him. Pray that you would play your part of proclaiming his glory to the nations.

Thinking further:
None today.

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