One of the promises of the Old Covenant is the redemption of Israel, but that doesn’t mean there will not be judgment on their wickedness. Even in the midst of judgment, God will show mercy by sending one who will be called “a precious cornerstone” (28:16). It is by belief in this cornerstone, this sure foundation, that Israel will be saved (28:16). Isaiah remarks how the Jews had been seeking help from Egypt against Assyria, but there will be no need for hurry on that day. God will supply all that is necessary and at the right time.
One of the great questions in theology is how the promises made to Israel will be fulfilled, if they have not been fulfilled yet. Some argue that by interpreting from a grammatical-historical method, you must agree that there will be a restored Israel in a millennial kingdom after Christ returns. That entails a restored temple, worship, and sacrificial system in Israel that will be interrupted by the antichrist about halfway through a period of seven years, or the great tribulation. Some, though not all, within that camp say that the restored nation of Israel in 1948 is just a foretaste of that future.
I affirm a millennial, earthly kingdom of 1000 years, the appearance of the antichrist, and a period of intense tribulation. What I question is the reestablishment of Israel as a theocracy (it is a parliamentary-democracy right now, a far cry from the Old Covenant form of government). I’m not saying it’s entirely impossible, but I do think it’s an argument built on inference rather than a grammatical-historical interpretation like its proponents say it is.
Both Peter and Paul interpret Isaiah 28 as being fulfilled in Christ. Paul says in Roman 10:11, “For the Scripture says, ‘Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame’”, showing the Roman Christians that we must confess and believe that God raised Jesus from the dead. Peter quotes the same passage in 1 Peter 2:6, showing that as Jesus is the cornerstone, individual believers are living stones being built up into a spiritual house. We do not know better than the apostles.
So how will Israel be saved? They will be saved in the same way as the Gentiles—by faith in Christ. Paul wrote in Romans 11 that ethnic Israelites are hardened in their heart, but it’s temporary. When all the elect Gentiles are saved, all of Israel will then be saved (vv.25-26). God will keep his promises; but we must understand fulfillment as Scripture makes clear.
Isaiah 29 looks forward to when Jerusalem gets sacked. God will punish Jerusalem, which everyone believes took place in history. Why do we project her restoration as a nation far in the future? God again warns his people against seeking help from foreign powers (ch. 30), because he is their God and helper. For those who do rebel and seek help from Egypt, they will perish.
The millennial kingdom fulfills the promises of restoration, not a period of great tribulation preceding the millennial kingdom. That much is clear in chapter 32, where a king reigns in righteousness. When Christ reigns on the earth before the new heavens and new earth, there will be shelter from the wind and water in dry places. Things will be better, but they will not all yet be new. The earth will be restored, but not yet renewed.
Isaiah’s beautiful prayer of chapter 33 is for God’s enemies to be destroyed. Assyria serves a purpose, but they are another rebellious Gentile nation who hates the things of God. That awful truth expands out to the rest of the nations in chapter 34. And yet, there is always remnant of God’s people who remain faithful. Chapter 35 mentions the desert blooming, blind eyes being opened, ears of the deaf being unstopped, and the lame being strengthened, where are other likely references to restoration before renewal.
Chapter 36 begins a historical section, where Assyria attacks Judah, the southern kingdom of Israel. When the people trust in God and know that he will defend them, they are safe. The king of Assyria sends a Rabshakeh, or a military official, to taught Hezekiah of Judah to force him into submission. In doing so, the Rabshakeh breaks the third commandment in 36:10. He takes the Lord’s name in vain and lies about receiving a word from the Lord. If the Jews will simply place their trust in the king of Assyria, says the Rabshakeh, they will be well-cared for. The people are silent, as Hezekiah commanded.
Hezekiah seeks out Isaiah for a word from God about what to do. Because the king and the people sought the Lord, Isaiah tells the people, as the of God, that the king of Assyria will die in his own land. Israel will be safe. Hezekiah continues to seek God, even as the king of Assyria mocks God and the people. God sends word to Hezekiah through Isaiah that they will be guarded. In fact, God will quite literally protect the city; he sends an angel to slaughter 185,000 Assyrian soldiers. King Sennacherib of Assyria is killed in a coup.
King Hezekiah is not well and knows he is about to die. Isaiah confirms that he is near death. In his grief, Hezekiah asks God to remember his good works. God shows Hezekiah some kindness and extends his life by fifteen years. The king of Babylon hears of Hezekiah’s recovery, and he uses it to get a sense of Judah’s wealth. It’s a foolish thing for Hezekiah to give the king of a foreign, pagan nation a glimpse of the wealth of Israel. Hezekiah is wasting the life he has left. God will punish this and other sins by having the Jews carried away to Babylon in exile. Part of Hezekiah’s sin is that he cares so little for the people. His only concern is that he won’t life long enough to see exile (39:8). This is the end of the historical section. Chapter 40 begins a new section of prophecy.
In the final sections of Isaiah, we read what are called “the servant songs”, the first of which is Isaiah 42:1-4. These are prophecies of a man who will bring about Israel’s redemption, God’s chosen servant, his own Son Jesus Christ. The first servant song speaks of the gentleness of God’s servant. Throughout Isaiah 40-55, sometimes the phrase “the servant of the LORD” speaks directly about Israel, and other times it refers to a specific Israelite. This is another indiction that Jesus Christ stands in for the nation of Israel.
The servant of the Lord is gentle, but he is about justice. He does not only bring justice to Israel but to the whole world, or the nations/Gentiles. The servant will form a new people of God, all of whom are united under this servant.
2 Corinthians 13
Paul is still bringing all the threads of his letter together. He was warned them to repent, and he has reminded them of his apostolic heritage. Be sure, there will be church discipline for the unrepentant. He has been inordinately patient until now. But because there are those who obstinately continue in sin, despite repeated calls for repentance, there comes a time when they must be cast out of the camp to ensure the purity of the local church.
It is likely that Paul wrote the letter to the church in Galatia around the year AD 48. The Jerusalem council took place sometime in AD 48-49, and should that have already occurred, it is strange Paul would have never referred to it in this letter. The problem in the Galatian church would have been directly addressed by the letter that the Jerusalem council produced.
Paul had been to Galatia previously. Since the time he had left, the church had been visited by a handful of teachers teaching a false gospel. It seems to have been primarily about a version of the gospel, which required many Jewish components, such as circumcision. Unfortunately, many of the Christians in Galatia had fallen prey to the logic and reasoning of the false teachers. The natural result of this was division in the church. No other message is compatible with the gospel.
Galatians is famous for not including a mention of thanksgiving at the beginning. He goes directly from “grace and peace to you” to “you idiots.” He is absolutely dumbfounded that anyone would fall for the lies of the false teachers. However, we see it even today. People love to have their ears tickled. There is no other gospel, and there is no version of the one, true gospel. Even if Paul began to change his message, it would not be true even if he’s an apostle. If an angel did the same thing, it wouldn’t be true.
As he does in a few other letters, he recounts his conversion and first few years as a Christian and an apostle. The point of including this is that the gospel he preached to them is not a human construct. He did not form it himself. It is not the product of combining a bunch of different ideas together into “the gospel”. He received it directly from Jesus himself. Paul’s message of that same gospel should be the criterion for anyone else proclaiming the gospel. Paul’s not afraid to stand up for that gospel, either. Even Peter went through troubled times, behaving one way with Jews and another way with Gentiles. When Paul and Peter talked it though, Peter repented. The gospel is worth the fight—literally.
The false teachers had introduced works into the equation by demanding that the Galatian Christians obey certain components of the Mosaic law. To combat this, Paul tells the Galatians to think back to what took place at their conversion. Did he expect them to maintain fidelity to Israelite law as a condition of faith in Christ? Of course not!
This gets to the heart of the new covenant. The old covenant, the Mosaic covenant, was a temporary covenant, or formal relationship, between God and the nation of Israel. When Jesus said that he did not come to abolish but to fulfill the law (Matt. 5:17), no one got up and asked, “Which ones?” He fulfilled them all, because the old covenant looked forward to him in its entirety. Each covenant found in the Scriptures must be taken on its own terms; they are not all the same. The conditions of the new covenant are laid out in the new covenant, not the old.
This much is made clear in Galatians 3:10 when Paul quotes Deuteronomy 27:26. Paul’s whole argument hinges on the fact that the old covenant law was an indivisible unit. To pick and choose which ones were still binding on Christians was essentially playing darts blindfolded. The point is that everyone who lives under the law, either as a Jew or by choosing to uphold it has a Christian, has placed themselves under the entire law, not the specific laws you might think Christians should still obey. Even going back to Abraham, who received his promises centuries before the law was given, we see that inheritance comes through faith, not the law. The law is a captive; don’t put yourself back in bondage. In Christ, we are free from the law. Faith makes us Abraham’s offspring, not the Israelite law.
Paul also illustrates this point by saying the law was a guardian or a tutor. When a child is still quite young, there’s virtually no difference between him and a slave. They have no real rights. They have no claim to the patriarch’s inheritance. While the son is that age, he is under the authority of a guardian or a tutor while he waits to come of age. Once he comes of age, the guardian no longer has any binding authority on him. This is like what happened with the law; once we came of age, the law was no longer a condition of the new covenant.
Paul then uses the illustration of Sarah and Hagar. He’s already made mention of Abraham. Sarah was Abraham’s life, and Hagar was Sarah’s servant. Since Sarah doubted that she would be blessed with a son in her old age, she had Abraham sleep with Hagar. But the offspring of Abraham and Hagar was not the vehicle of the promise; that would have to come from Abraham and Sarah. Paul interprets these two women allegorically, meaning he uses a real situation that has an underlying meaning. Hagar represents the children born under the law; they are in bondage under the old covenant. Sarah represents the children born again in the new covenant; they are free in Christ.
If the Galatians return to being children of Hagar, they are no longer free in Christ. “Christ will be of no advance to you.” So in fact, they will have never truly been in Christ. These Christians are seeking justification by obedience to the law, which is an oxymoron. There is in fact no justification to be found under the law. We are only justified by grace through faith. Circumcision, and all the rest of the Jewish identity markers of the law, are nothing on their own. Only faith in Christ, proving itself in love toward God and others, is what counts.
What does this freedom look like, then? If we don’t live according to the obligations of the law, are we then free to live however we want? Of course not. Paul outlines the work/fruit of the flesh: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like that. But the work/fruit of the Spirit shows itself in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. In living out the fruit of the Spirit in ever-increasing measure, we actually fulfill the point of the law without needing the law. Living in the Spirit fulfills the law in ways insistence on following the rituals and ceremonies of the law can’t imagine.