God created humankind for his glory.
Genesis 1:31 And God saw all the things that he had made, and, behold, they were very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.
Then, as everyone knows, God’s enemy Satan attempted to ruin God’s creation. He enticed the people God had created away from their loyalty to God. God punished the world by sending an enormous flood (Genesis 6-9). After this flood, the Old Testament records how God seemingly gave up on the bulk of the world’s people (Genesis 7-11). Rather, he chose to focus upon a small group. They were the progeny of God’s faithful servant and friend, Abraham. They became known as “Israel.” God chose this small group to be his showcase, his special witnesses. They were to demonstrate God’s character of goodness and righteousness to the world.
But that didn’t happen. God had given them a glorious Law. But these people of his kept ignoring, losing, and disobeying it. They left God again and again to worship the gods of the nations. Repeatedly, the Old Testament records how God punished his people by allowing their enemies to trod them underfoot. When they repented, God would bless them. But their loyalty never endured. Continuously, they recommitted the sin of their first parents. Over and over again, they left the God who loved them and followed the idols of the false gods of the nations surrounding them.
God’s problem in a nutshell is that he is faithful, but those he seeks to bless are not.
God’s Problem Expressed in Isaiah
The book of Isaiah is like the weather in Southern California. The climate there never settles down. Heat follows cold and flood follows drought, all in rapid succession. Throughout the entire year, the weather proves itself erratic. The book of Isaiah is like this. Isaiah bounces back and forth between assurances of blessing for Israel and pronouncements of judgment. Isaiah 42:16-44:8 provides a good example of this principle.
Isaiah 42:16 And I will bring the blind by a way that they knew not, and I will cause them to tread paths which they have not known: I will turn darkness into light for them, and crooked things into straight. These things will I do, and will not forsake them. 17 But they are turned back: be ye utterly ashamed that trust in graven images, who say to the molten images, Ye are our gods. 18 Hear, ye deaf, and look up, ye blind, to see. 19 And who is blind, but my servants? and deaf, but they that rule over them? yea, the servants of God have been made blind. (Septuagint, Brenton)
First, notice God’s blessing and promise in verse 16 above. Then, see the statement of the problem in verses 17 through 19. Description of the problem and God’s response of judgment against Israel continues through the end of the chapter in verse 25.
Isaiah 42:25 So he brought upon them the fury of his wrath; and the war, and those that burnt round about them, prevailed against them; yet no one of them knew it, neither did they lay it to heart. (Septuagint, Brenton) (See also Isaiah 42:25, ESV or Isaiah 42:25, NET.)
Then, Isaiah 43:1 switches back immediately to God’s assurance of blessing. God’s blessing continues throughout chapter 43 and into chapter 44.
And now thus saith the Lord God that made thee, O Jacob, and formed thee, O Israel, Fear not: for I have redeemed thee, I have called thee by thy name; thou art mine. (Septuagint, Brenton)
Part One: Messiah
How can a reader deal with these flip-flops? Is either God himself, or Isaiah, or both schizophrenic? What is God’s intention: blessing or judgment? He seems to insist on both. No, God is not schizophrenic, and everything he says he will do, he will do. The resolution to the seeming contradiction goes all the way back to the very beginning. God has always had a plan. And God’s plan has always been to send people their Savior.
Genesis 3:15 I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed. He shall bruise your head, and you shall be on guard for His heel. (SAAS) (1)
A Savior will be born into the people of Israel. He will be God’s singular Servant, God’s Son. The Savior/Servant will obey God fully and always. He alone will accomplish God’s purposes of righteousness and loyalty on behalf of all Israel.
EVIDENCE OF THE SAVIOR IN ISAIAH
God’s glory against the backdrop of Israel’s failure (Israel, plural) first appears in Isaiah 4:2-6. Note especially verses 4 and 5.
Isaiah 4:2 And in that day God shall shine gloriously in counsel on the earth, to exalt and glorify the remnant of Israel. 3 And it shall be, that the remnant left in Sion, and the remnant left in Jerusalem, even all that are appointed to life in Jerusalem, shall be called holy. 4 For the Lord shall wash away the filth of the sons and daughters of Sion, and shall purge out the blood from the midst of them, with the spirit of judgment, and the spirit of burning. 5 And he shall come, and it shall be with regard to every place of mount Sion, yea, all the region round about it shall a cloud overshadow by day, and there shall be as it were the smoke and light of fire burning by night: and upon all the glory shall be a defence. 6 And it shall be for a shadow from the heat, and as a shelter and a hiding-place from inclemency of weather and from rain. (Septuagint, Brenton)
Without the New Testament, these verses would remain unfulfilled. But Christ has completely fulfilled this promise. Thank God for the light the New Testament sheds.
First, the Lord washed away the filth of not only the sons and daughters of Sion but of the whole world on the cross. Second, Christ continues that work by means of his Holy Spirit. Third, the Holy Spirit is also the Comforter (or, Helper), who defends and shelters God’s new Israel, the church, from adversity and from enemies.
Matthew 3:11 “I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” (ESV)
Notice the similarities between the images Matthew uses and those of Isaiah 4:4, quoted above. The Apostle John speaks more of the Holy Spirit, see below, much as Isaiah does in Isaiah 4:5-6, quoted earlier.
John 16:7 Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. 8 And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: 9 concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; 10 concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; 11 concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged. (ESV)
Isaiah’s verses find fulfillment in the activities of the Holy Spirit.
Acts 2:1 When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. (ESV)
Readers can find further references to the Savior in Isaiah, up to this point, in Isaiah 9:1-6; 11:1-16; 12:1-6; 22:20-24; 32:1-4, 15-20; 40:1-11; and 42:1-16. This list may not be exhaustive.
Part Two: A Remnant
All Scripture is clear that only a remnant will be saved. Noah’s boat provides the first example. It carried only eight people to safety (Genesis 7:13). Israel itself is but a remnant of the entire human race. Further, Isaiah makes clear that only a remnant of Israel will be saved.
Isaiah 10:20 And it shall come to pass in that day that the remnant of Israel shall no more join themselves with, and the saved of Jacob shall no more trust in, them that injured them; but they shall trust in the Holy God of Israel, in truth. 21 And the remnant of Jacob shall trust on the mighty God. 22 And though the people of Israel be as the sand of the sea, a remnant of them shall be saved. (Septuagint, Brenton)
Isaiah 4:3 And it shall be, that the remnant left in Sion, and the remnant left in Jerusalem, even all that are appointed to life in Jerusalem, shall be called holy. 4 For the Lord shall wash away the filth of the sons and daughters of Sion, and shall purge out the blood from the midst of them, with the spirit of judgment, and the spirit of burning. (Septuagint, Brenton) [See also Isaiah 28:5; 37:31-32; and 46:3-4. There may be other references.]
The Apostle Paul, an Israelite among Israelites (Romans 11:1 and Philippians 3:4-5), picked up and expounded Isaiah’s theme of a remnant from Israel. To this remnant are added as many Gentiles as choose to come.
Romans 9:27 And Isaiah cries out concerning Israel: “Though the number of the sons of Israel be as the and of the sea, only a remnant of them will be saved, 28 for the Lord will carry out his sentence upon the earth fully and without delay.” 29 And as Isaiah predicted, “If the Lord of hosts had not left us offspring, we would have been like Sodom and become like Gomorrah.” (ESV) [And see all of Romans 9.)
Romans 11:4 But what is God’s reply to him? “I have kept for myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” 5 So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace. (ESV) [See the complete context in Romans 11.]
Jesus himself spoke of a small proportion that would be saved.
Matthew 7:14 For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few. (ESV)
Matthew 22:14 For many are called, but few are chosen.” (ESV)
Luke 13:22 He went on his way through towns and villages, teaching and journeying toward Jerusalem. 23 And someone said to him, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” And he said to them, 24 “Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. 25 When once the master of the house has risen and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, open to us,’ then he will answer you, ‘I do not know where you come from.’ 26 Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.’ 27 But he will say, ‘I tell you, I do not know where you come from. Depart from me, all you workers of evil!’ 28 In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God but you yourselves cast out. (ESV)
THE MAIN POINT OF A REMNANT
I don’t believe God’s purpose in specifying a remnant is to limit the number of people who finally enter the gates of his kingdom. (Neither should we.) Other places in Scripture claim that number will be as many as the sand in the sea and the stars in the sky (Revelation 7:9 is one such place). Rather, God seeks to emphasize that only those who believe, repent, and faithfully (continuously until the end) trust in and follow God as Lord, Savior, and King will be saved. Because God makes a promise to save Israel does not mean that he will save the arrogant, the hard of heart, or those unrepentantly disobedient to his will. That has never been God’s purpose. By means of the cross of his holy Servant, Jesus Christ, God gives everyone–Israelite and Gentile alike–opportunity to repent, be saved, and find their rest in him.
1 SAAS: “Scripture taken from the St. Athanasius Academy SeptuagintTM. Copyright © 2008 by St. Athanasius Academy of Orthodox Theology. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”