Eschatology and Isaiah

Isaiah frequently employs imagery that looks back to Eden to envisage an ideal world where there is peace and harmony not just between humans but also between creatures.  A classic and well known example of this would be 11:6-9 where famously, lions, wolves, leopards, lambs and calves can live side by side and small children are in no danger from serpents.

The imagery there might be taken as symbolic, to emphasis what it will mean for judgement to be over when God’s people return to the lamb.  Big beasts in prophecy ted to represent empires and powers.  So, we might see the prophecy as pointing first to the way in which powerful men and empires will lose their power and no longer be a threat.

Similarly, when we come towards the end of Isaiah, we have the image of a renewed Jerusalem (ch62)  that is safe and secure from attack, not shutting her gates at night.  The city no longer needs the sun because God himself is present to reign.  Isaiah goes on from there to describe a new creation, a new heavens and a new earth (ch 65-66).

Again, we might on one level see these prophecies as giving us a picture of what awaits repentant and restored Israel.  Some Biblical scholars have suggested that world ending language such as the fall of stars and planets is meant to use cosmic language to emphasise how earth shattering events here and now will be.  God’s people will experience their world turned upside down. Perhaps then, the language of new creation at the end of Isaiah fulfils a similar function.  If certain events seem to be world ending, then perhaps we are meant to see post exile Judea and Jerusalem as a new beginning, a fresh start. New Creation language would certainly evoke that sense of newness well.

Except for one thing.  If Isaiah was using apocalyptic language here to describe the future world to come, then you would expect him also to use such language to describe the coming judgement, just as you find Daniel, or even John in Revelation doing.  He doesn’t. It is so very clear that when he talks about Israel’s judgement that he is doing so.  His language is restrained and very much localised.

Further clues that Isaiah has something more and greater in mind are provided when we realise that this new creation is tied into the coming of the anointed servant.  If this anointed one is not just a prince of peace but everlasting, mighty God even then this points to no mere mortal. Then we discover that he is the one able to make atonement through his own death and later vindication, at least suggesting resurrection.  God’s chosen servant will do more than bring the exile’s grandchildren home (ch 53).

So, it should be no surprise to see the New Testament drawing on the language of Isaiah, not just to tell us about the incarnation and crucifixion but to point us forward to a greater day to come.  Isaiah prophesies both Christ’s first coming and second coming.  The language of new Jerusalem and new creation are picked up in the last few chapters of Revelation bringing the curtain down on God’s big story of redemption.

Isaiah may start local with a focus on the immediate land, people and near future but his horizon expands until he speaks about the whole of creation and looks forward into eternity.

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