The Promise of His Coming

Many years ago, in London, England, a man in despair went to drown himself in the River Thames. On the way to the river, though, he happened to see a copy of the painting, “Hope.” This was a painting of a blindfolded woman who was sitting on top of the world and playing on the one string left on her harp. The man turned and went back home, as he exclaimed, “Well, I have one string – I have a little boy at home.”

In a time of great difficulty and discouragement for many, that was the kind of hope that God held out for his people. The year was 732 BC. It was during the difficult years of the reign of the ungodly king Ahaz, in his capital city of Jerusalem, in the southern kingdom of Judah. Ahaz had led a life of wickedness and idolatry, and even sacrificed his son to a pagan god (either Baal-Rimmon or Molech).  But now the worst consequences of his wickedness had begun to arrive: the northern kingdom of Israel and the pagan kingdom of Syria had allied together against Ahaz and the kingdom of Judah, and they planned to set up a puppet king in Jerusalem. This would have meant an end to the independence of their nation and its becoming the slave state of the northern alliance. But God had his man on the spot to give them the message of hope and encouragement when the very survival of their nation seemed to be at stake. God gave the prophet Isaiah a vision of the King that was to come, and this would be someone infinitely better than the ungodly and incompetent Ahaz. This vision was an expansion on the earlier prophecy which God had given through Isaiah of the greater King from the line of David who was to come, and who would be marked as the center of the promises of God and the hopes of the people of God by being born of a virgin. Though the people of God would experience more oppression in the centuries to come through the world powers that would appear temporarily on the scene, through the prophet God pointed ahead to a time hundreds of years later to show them the Light of Salvation, the Son to be born of a virgin, who would ironically be the direct descendant of the incompetent Ahaz himself, and would bring his people freedom from the ultimate oppression itself.

This prophecy that God gave through Isaiah remains as the encouragement of the people of God today, as a foundation stone for the faith and hope of the people of God of all ages, but even more so today, since we now live on the other side of the first installment of the fulfillment of the prophecy. We now live since the time that the promised King first came, Jesus Christ, who lived and ministered among us, who died and rose again, and who now reigns from heaven. But we also can draw encouragement that there is an installment of the prophecy which is yet to be fulfilled, and when it is completely fulfilled, the promised King, born of a virgin, will return in glory and will rule openly over all the earth. Though we often hear these words during the Christmas season, in the incomparable setting of Georg Frederick Handel’s Messiah, we can gain a deeper understanding and appreciation for their meaning as we together consider what they meant at the time when these words first came through the prophet Isaiah.

So here is what Isaiah said, to the people of his time and to the people of God of all ages:

“There will no longer be any darkness to those who were in despair;
Previously he humiliated the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali,
But afterwards he will make glorious the land by the way of the sea,
The land by the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles!
The nation walking in darkness has seen a great light,
To the dwellers in the land of deepest darkness a great light has shone forth!
You have enlarged the nation, you have made their joy great,
Before your presence they rejoice, with the joy of a great harvest,
Or as men exult when they divide their spoils,
Because the heavy yoke,
The iron bar on their shoulders,
The ruling rod of the oppressor
You have shattered like on the day of Midian,
Because every soldier’s boot, every iron shin guard,
Every garment rolled in blood,
Is only destined for burning, simply fuel for the fire.
Because to us a child is born, a Son is given,
And the government will be on his shoulders!
And his name will be called Wonderful, Counselor,
Mighty God, Everlasting Father,
Prince of Peace!
And of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end.
He will be on the throne of David and over his kingdom,
And establish and increase it
With judgment and righteousness, from then until forever!
The zeal of the LORD of hosts will accomplish this!”

(Isaiah 9:1-7).

When God’s people living in distressing times, God’s promise of the Light of salvation remains. The Light of salvation isn’t some mystical mist, feelings of exaltation or anything like that, but a Person, and the Light of salvation is Salvation in person. The deliverance of God, the Light of salvation, is in the person of his Son, the promised King, and he comes to those who are in hopeless situations, where there is suffering, to deliver those who trust in him.

The Light of God’s salvation came first to the land and the people where it seemed like the darkness had its headquarters. The joy of deliverance would come by the prophecy from the center of the land of the northern alliance, from the people who would seem to be under the most evil and incompetent rulers of that day. It would come to the land of Galilee, and that land was then under the sway of the pagans.

In verses 1-2, Isaiah directs his prophecy to the land of Galilee, Galilee of the Gentiles.

“There will no longer be any darkness to those who were in despair;
Previously he humiliated the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali,
But afterwards he will make glorious the land by the way of the sea,
The land by the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles!
The nation walking in darkness has seen a great light,
To the dwellers in the land of deepest darkness a great light has shone forth!”

 

In ancient Israel, the land which was called Galilee then and now was always the first to suffer under the invasion of foreign powers. In a very short time after this prophecy was given, it would also be the first to suffer under the invasion of the Assyrian war machine, the terrifyingly brutal empire of that day. The prior context is a part of the rebuke of God through Isaiah to Ahaz, and it shows how God takes ungodly and incompetent rulers to task. And in the prior context God tells the godly and faithful in Israel to remain faithful and not to be terrified or intimidated by every scary rumor that they would hear. He also advises them to trust in God and his Word, and not to turn aside to the psychics and ghost whisperers of that day, since that path only leads to further darkness, dissatisfaction and despair that are the marks of oppression of a spiritual nature, as it does today as well. But then the prophecy through Isaiah turns to that land he called Galilee of the Gentiles, and that had been Israelite territory for about five hundred years, ever since God had given it to the Israelite tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali during the time of Joshua, when the Israelites conquered the land after they had left Egypt during the time of Moses.

Isaiah had called the Galilee of the Gentiles a land of no joy, and that was certainly an understatement for the suffering of that time and the suffering to come.  Because it was on the northern borders, the Galilee was often the first piece of territory picked off by invaders and conquerors from the northern borders of Israel. These invaders were in earlier years from the Aramaean states that are a part of modern Syria, and later in the time of Isaiah, from the Assyrian empire. The Assyrian empire centered around the cities of Calah, Asshur and Nineveh, in what is now northern Iraq. After the amazing ministry of Jonah in Nineveh some years earlier, the Assyrians seem to have been restrained in their drive for conquest of the whole Middle East, but they were soon to start back on that same path. And, as far as the land of Israel was concerned, the area of Galilee that Isaiah was speaking to would be the first to suffer. But, in the times to come, the first to suffer would be the first to experience something wonderful in the years to come. Centuries later, the fulfillment would come about, and it would not be a political liberation but something greater and deeper. The fulfillment would begin in the ministry of Jesus Christ in the land of Galilee, during the time of about 27-30 A.D., when he brought relief from spiritual and physical oppression in his ministry of preaching, teaching and healing. The Light of salvation in person in those years came to an area despised for its religious and social impurity, and brought, and the apostle Matthew in fact pointed to the ministry of Jesus as the fulfillment of this prophecy (Matthew 4:12-17). And it seems that this prophecy did point forward to Jesus’s declaration in the gospel of John, “I am the Light of the world! Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life!”

This shows the continuing modus operandi of God himself, that he brings the Light of salvation to the hopeless situations, and to the people who other people despise, bypass and exploit. He directs his greatest blessings to the most difficult situations and the most impossible people, and the freedom through his Son seems to come where the darkness may seem to be descending forever. The God of the Bible greatly desires to bring great joy and victory into places and lives marked by oppression and suffering. But he understands the real needs of the human heart and the human life more than any, and he knows that the real need of mankind is for more than political freedom from oppression and satisfaction of their physical needs, but rather, freedom from the power of sin over the human heart.

In so many circumstances we may forget this, and look to the satisfaction of the physical needs rather than the real needs of the human heart, but God provides for the need in ways in which we often would not do ourselves. For example, there was once a woman in Anchorage, Alaska many years ago who had been living in adultery with a married man, but who then became pregnant and was abandoned by him. After having been left alone, she threw herself on her bed and prayed, “O God, I haven’t talked with you for years, but if you are there, if you are real, please answer me. I have made a terrible mess of my life and I need your help. I need forgiveness. I want to live differently.”

God then directed her to go to the first church she saw, and there was a citywide conference on spiritual growth going on. She went in, paid the fee and came alone every night. The leader of the conference noticed her and her isolation in the midst of so many others, but he later found her coming to speak privately to him after the fourth night. He then shared with her the gospel of Jesus Christ, and she came to believe in the Savior that Isaiah had pointed to, and receive all the benefits of salvation by grace through faith in Christ. Her problem, as she knew, wasn’t simply her circumstances, but the problem was with her heart and the way that she had been living, and she received what she needed to walk out of the darkness of her past into the light of the salvation which Jesus brought.

Ultimately, then, the Light of salvation which God promises means victory over our oppressions, since the conquering King is mightier than all the might of the oppressors. Before the power of the King who is to come all the equipment of the oppressor simply seems to melt away.

In verses 3-4, Isaiah went on to declare that the land of no joy, Galilee of the Gentiles, would become a land which would experience great joy as the mercy of God arrived there. He said,

“You have enlarged the nation, you have made their joy great,
Before your presence they rejoice, with the joy of a great harvest,
Or as men exult when they divide their spoils,
Because the heavy yoke,
The iron bar on their shoulders,
The ruling rod of the oppressor
You have shattered like on the day of Midian,
Because every soldier’s boot, every iron shin guard,
Every garment rolled in blood,
Is only destined for burning, simply fuel for the fire.”

The comparisons for this joy were as a time of great harvest or in dividing the spoils after a great military victory – perhaps the modern analogies would be a great stock market boom, a great victory like the Gulf War or World War II, or even a great victory for one’s favorite sports team. There would  be a miraculous victory over the oppressors, like that of Gideon over the vast army of Midian, which had taken place in about the same area about four hundred years earlier. During the lifetime of Isaiah there would have been a comparable miraculous victory over the Assyrians, in which no human would even have lifted a hand – and which, incidentally, is also attested by the secular Greek historian Herodotus. In the time of Jesus, the people would have also been looking for a political and military deliverance from the Romans, since the Roman oppression tended to be more visible in Galilee than in Jerusalem. But the promise of God’s miraculous deliverance would not be military and political, but rather the beginning of a peace that would never end, that would receive its final culmination at the return of Jesus Christ.

Though the power of oppression and evil may seem great, the power of God’s deliverance will always be greater still. Often, throughout the ages, the people of God, the people of the Bible, have been the oppressed and conquered rather than the conquerors and the oppressors. But all the might of a human war machine is nothing before the almighty Savior. Evil empires may arise, but they will all unravel and fall before the God who rules and governs the nations. This has been the comfort of the people of God in all ages, and it will certainly be so for the last generation that will face the ultimate evil empire and the ultimate evil emperor himself, the Antichrist. But ultimately, the joy of triumph will not be that of the false messiahs that precede the ultimate false messiah, and the ultimate false messiah, but all the vast, world dominating machinery of evil will simply melt away before the coming of the Prince of Peace.

Therefore, our hope in our own dark circumstances is the light of God’s salvation in the person of Jesus Christ. He is the hope that gives us strength to endure even if the darkness seems to be gathering and asserting itself. By his mere presence, the coming of the Light of salvation will dispel the darkness, so believers in Jesus Christ need not despair of any situation as hopeless, even if the whole world around them seems to be covered with darkness. There is especially no need for hopelessness, despair, self pity and anger even if we seem to think that the circumstances of our lives are hopeless, because they are not!

The deliverance, then, that the Light of salvation in person wants to bring into our lives, then is first of all within our hearts, to bring us his joy even in the midst of our difficult circumstances in this life. Too often this is something that we may think is the least when often it is the most important thing that we need. There was once that a social worker verbally flogged David Wilkerson for giving people false hopes, but then a young woman named Rosa gave him inestimable encouragement. She told how she laughed when he had said that Jesus could live in her heart, and how she was drawn to the Word of God when she was told he could give her power over sin. She said that night when she had asked Jesus to change her heart, that the horrible block on which she lived changed. There were still piles of stinking garbage around and roaches in the apartment, and she still had many problems, but, “Jesus has changed the biggest problem of all. he has shown me how to live with myself.”

So then, God’s Light of salvation in Jesus Christ remains when his people face distressing times, but even more, God’s promise of salvation points forward to the King who was to come. The Son that he promised would be the source of salvation for the despised and downtrodden people of God, and what a Son would be that King who was to come! His anointed King, the Messiah, would be the fulfillment of all the promises of God, and the glory of the ruling Messiah would be the source of salvation for his people.

The King who was to come as the fulfillment of salvation would be certainly more than an mere human being and more than any earthly ruler before or since. The prophecy says that he would be born a human male, but the amazing titles which he is given sows that he would be more than an ordinary man. The prophecy speaks about someone who is born and yet is eternal, man and yet more than man.

The prophet Isaiah then ex[ands upon an earlier promise that he had made to Ahaz in verse 6:

“Because to us a child is born, a Son is given,
And the government will be on his shoulders!
And his name will be called Wonderful, Counselor,
Mighty God, Everlasting Father,
Prince of Peace!”

It was certainly in the same time period, and may have even been on the same occasion he spoke to Ahaz face to face in 7:14, about the ruling Son from the house of David who was to be born of  a virgin. In this passage Isaiah explains more about what the prophetic name “Emmanuel” would mean, “God with us.” He would be “Wonderful,” which was the name of the angel of the Lord who had appeared to Manoah, the father of Samson, and who himself turned out to be God and accepted sacrifice as God himself. He would be “Counselor,” the great Teacher, and Jesus himself accepted this title fully of himself during his earthly ministry. Moreover, he would be “Mighty God,” the God of Israel himself in person, and he would be called, “The Everlasting Father,” as eternal as God himself and the “Prince of Peace,” the ultimate peacemaker as God himself. The ruling Son from the house of David, the King who was to come, would certainly be born human, but he would also be someone who would also have the attributes of God himself, and this is something that would be possible only if he were both God and man.

This also shows something remarkable about the way that the God of the Bible works things out as he intervenes in our lives and in the history of our world. His promises and his course of action may not really be comprehensible to us until it happens. This is the way that the promises of God and the prophecies of the Messiah happened in the life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus. But as he did with Jesus, he most certainly will do the unprecedented and unexpected for his people, as he did when he became man in the person of his Son. We often cannot know how he will act to fulfill his promises beforehand, but we can rely on him to fulfill his promises; we may find him doing things that we do not and cannot anticipate, but we will certainly find him acting powerfully, compassionately and lovingly for his glory in the person of his Son for his people. And in Jesus, God has come himself and has not remained distant. It is like a legend of a Shah of Iran some centuries ago. He disguised himself as a poor man, and came and sat with the man who tended the fire for the furnace to heat the water for the public baths. He proceeded to visit with him day after day, until one day when the Shah revealed his true identity to the poor man. The poor man looked into the Shah’s face with love and wonder and said, “You left your palace and your glory to sit with me in this dark place, to eat my coarse food, and to care about what happens to me. On others you may bestow rich gifts, but to me you have given yourself!”

God’s promise of salvation through his King, then, shows his utter trustworthiness. Through Jesus Christ he has fulfilled his promises to the royal dynasty of David, the royal house of Israel, and to all the people of God in all ages. The dynasty that reached its fullest dominion in Jesus Christ shows the utter faithfulness of God to his promises to all ages.

Isaiah went on to declare that all this would be accomplished not by anything that they would do but by the zealous determination of  God to fulfill his own promises to the house of David:

“And of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end.
He will be on the throne of David and over his kingdom,
And establish and increase it
With judgment and righteousness, from then until forever!
The zeal of the LORD of hosts will accomplish this!”

The fulfillment of the promises of God in Jesus Christ stand as a witness forever to the utter trustworthiness of the God of the Bible and his utter dedication to the fulfillment of his own Word. God had already given promises to David years earlier, but through Isaiah, those promises were expanded even more to that someone else who would be greater than Solomon, the immediate heir of David. The King who would reign forever on the throne of David would be the final recipient of the promises of God through Isaiah to the people of God, and that Forever King would have no adversary ever that could resist his power and authority. The final application of this prophecy, then, is to the glory of the risen and exalted Lord Jesus, who has all power in heaven and on earth, and who is returning to rule this world directly, up close and in person.

Because of the precise and trustworthy fulfillment of the promises of God in Jesus Christ, there is the certainty for the child of God through faith in Jesus Christ that the God of the Bible remembers and fulfills his own promises. There is the assurance that the God of the Bible has a meticulous faithfulness to all that he says he will do. And the basis of our faith in him and our faith in his Word is not anything in ourselves and the strength of our convictions, confidence or feelings, but the faithfulness which God has shown throughout the centuries to do exactly what he has promised. The faith of the believer in Christ is not the presumption of and our expectations of what we want, but rather the trust in and reception of what God has already said and promised. So a strong faith is only the humble confidence in what God has said, and daring to take him at his Word, rather than trusting to our own ideas and our own estimation of the circumstances, no matter how promising nor how dark they may seem. And this is the kind of confidence which is found in the words of ‘Chester,’ which was one of the runners-up to be the national anthem of the United States of America:

“Let our tyrants shake their iron rod,
And slavery clank her galling chains,
We fear them not,
We trust in God,
New England’s God forever reigns.”

The God of the Bible will always fulfill his Word, but in his own way and in his own time. To his glory he will often go beyond our own ideas and expectations to do much more than we had thought, but in our difficulties he will above all give us himself. This is the reason for us to trust him, to receive his companionship through Jesus Christ, to follow his Word, and to live with the sense of adventure and wonder that comes when God’s surprises arrive and fulfill our deepest desires.

The message of the prophet of God, then, is, “Wait for the King! Everything is moving forward to the time that he arrives here, and everything will be all right when  he gets here!” So, we now live on the other side of the first coming of the King, after his birth at Bethlehem. We live on the other side of the testimony to what God has done for us through his life, ministry, death and resurrection. If we have repented of our sins and put our faith in him, his Light of salvation, the pardon for our sins and acceptance with God that means eternal life, has already shone into our lives. And yet we wait for him also, for his return in glory, when he will openly and directly exercise his authority over the earth as the King and Master of all. Because of him we know that God cares when people are in suffering and oppression. Because of him we know that God is faithful, that he fulfills his Word even if great stretches of time take place between the promise and the fulfillment. Because of him we know that God’s purpose for our world from all eternity has been that all power and authority, all the glory of Deity, and all wisdom and salvation, would center in and be embodied in the person of Jesus Christ.

Because Jesus has come, then, and is yet to return, there is opportunity to receive the eternal life which he died and rose again to provide. He comes as the Light and joy of salvation to those who repent of their sins and put their trust in him. So the question comes to you: have you trusted in the King? Have you received the gift of eternal life which he died to provide for you, and which you could not have earned by yourself? Have you declared your allegiance, that the King is your Lord and Master, by the public declaration of your faith in him?

If you have placed your trust in Jesus Christ, and you have received eternal life, does your life show genuine loyalty to him? Are you loyal to him in your daily obedience to him in following his Word daily, since any day could the the day that you would meet him? Are you demonstrating your loyalty to the other people of his family and kingdom, your brothers and sisters in Christ, by dealing honestly with them and with self sacrificial love? Do you show the glory of the kingdom through lives of purity, holiness and love, so that others see a family resemblance to the King in your life? Finally, do you seek to enlist others to loyalty to the King by your witness to him?

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