Isaiah 44 reads like a series of incredible, individual conversions to the Lord. This is what Paul is referring to in Romans 11 when he speaks of a great ingrafting of Jews at the end of the age. Many Jews will call on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and so be saved. The imagery of what is happening to the land is just that—imagery. That’s made clear by the statement that people will spring up among the grass. It’s the reversal of the utter destruction from the previous chapter.
God works in history, even though all of history is before him at once. God chose to use king Cyrus to restore Jerusalem and rebuild the temple at the conclusion of the exile of that generation. Even then, the point is to draw glory back to God himself. When the nations see the restoration of Jerusalem, many will call on the one, true God (ch. 45). God stands over against the idols because he is true; he is real and hears the cries of his people (ch. 46). Babylon will fall and be humiliated (ch. 47). John picks up this language of the fall of Babylon throughout Revelation. As you’ve seen already, the book of Isaiah is instrumental in understanding the book of Revelation. Old Testament prophecy helps interpret New Testament prophecy and vice versa.
God will do a new thing in Israel (48:6ff). They will be acts that Israel has not heard of before and will not expect. This is seemingly to safeguard them against rejecting what he will do for them. He again does all of this for his own glory. Salvation is not ultimately about us; it’s about God and his willingness to redeem his enemies. He is constantly calling his people back from rebellion (48:12ff).
Isaiah 49:1-7 is the second “servant song” of Isaiah. This servant is the one who will bring Jacob, or Israel, back to God in faithfulness. God will make his servant “as a light for the nations, that [his] salvation may reach to the end of the earth” (Isaiah 49:6). Paul quotes this verse in Acts 13:47 to describe the person and work of Christ. Jesus even tells his disciples that they will be sent to the end of the earth, showing that the ministry of Christ will extend as far.
The next servant song is Isaiah 50:4-11. The servant is hated, disgraced, and spit upon. Even in the midst of all of that, God helps his servant. This encourages the servant to persevere and be faithful to the end. All of God’s enemies will be destroyed, but the servant will be saved. The final servant song is Isaiah 52:13-53:12, and it is the longest. It is also perhaps the most well-recognized. It is read most often at Easter services because of its direct application to the crucifixion. The servant will be disfigured because of what is done to him by wicked men, but he will save men from every nation through it. The servant won’t be anything physically remarkable, but he will be hated by all. But in his crucifixion, Christ had imputed to him our sins and sorrows. “He was pierced for our transgressions; he was crush for our iniquities; upon him ws the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5). He did not return hateful speech for the hateful speech he received. A rich man, Josephus, gave his tomb for Christ’s burial. You see how many specific prophecies Christ fulfilled from this one single passage. And perhaps most astonishing of it all is that this was God’s will (Isaiah 53:10). God absorbed our debt to him. And today, Christ continues to intercede for the transgressors.
God’s grace is immeasurable. He tells his people to celebrate and prepare for what he will do for them. Instead of being in exile, their children will possess the nations (54:3). Shame will be a thing of the past. God may have been angry at them for their sins for a time, but his love is everlasting by contrast. In the same way God promised Noah that he would never again destroy the world through flood waters, neither will he continue to be angry with them. Not only that, but God himself will teach the children. That is a direct reference to the new covenant (Jeremiah 31:34, “And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”). God will judge his people, but he will also vindicate them for his own glory. God’s compassion is undeserved and unfathomable. That is why he compiles us to seek him while he may be found (Isaiah 55:6).
Israel will not be the only ones saved by God. Old covenant law demanded foreigners keep themselves from the temple. But in the new covenant, that will be changed. Any gentile who keeps the covenant will be made even better than a son or daughter (56:4-5). God’s house will be a house of prayer for all people (56:7), not just the Jews.
One of the primary problems within the hearts of the Jewish people was their willingness to do the right things for the wrong reasons. They took part in the right ceremonies and rituals but with hardened hearts. God calls attention to their fasting, or withholding of food for a specified period of time to devote yourself to God, and how they have tried to be manipulative. Instead of seeking greater devotion to God, they seek their own pleasure (58:3). The only Old Testament command to fast was concerned with the Day of Atonement once a year (Leviticus 16:29 & 31). At times, various prophets or kings might declare a time of fasting as a special occasion. But fasting was intended to mourn over sin and seek the Lord while he may be found.
But fasting had become a means of self-righteousness and pride. By the time of Jesus, he has to remind people that they shouldn’t make a show of fasting and to take care of themselves while they fast (Matthew 6:16-18). The kind of fasting that pleases God takes the focus of one ones self and onto God and neighbor. The people had turned a blind eye to the injustice around them but insisted they were good people by their fasting.
God promises that his glory will shine through his people, which will be the draw for the nations to seek the Lord (60:2-3). I believe this to be speaking of the end of our own age. Isaiah is shown a time far in his future, when the Jews and the Gentiles both seek the Lord because he has sought them. The nations will enter the new city and bring their glory into it (60:11, Rev. 21:24). Isaiah 60:19-20 sounds suspiciously like Revelation 21:22-23.
Isaiah 61 is the passage that Jesus preached in Luke 4. Jesus Christ was the fulfillment of this Old Testament prophecy. While this is not technically a servant song (which are usually about the servant himself, not written from his own perspective), the servant is the one speaking here. The servant has come to proclaim forgiveness as well as God’s wrath. But for those who mourn their sin and seek the Lord, they will be new clothes and are commanded to stop their mourning. Their forgiveness has arrived.
It’s amazing to see that in 61:8, the Lord is speaking, but it has been the servant speaking all along. It is another passage confirming that Jesus Christ is God. The covenant he makes, the new covenant in his blood, is everlasting. It is not temporary as was the old covenant. Every nation will have Christians before the end of the age. The nations will be drawn by Israel’s righteousness (62:1-2). No more will God’s people be marred by their sin but will be redeemed and be God’s delight. God will rejoice over his people as a groom does over his bride. The Lord will avenge his enemies, all those who harden their hearts against him; but those who do not deal falsely, who seek after him, the Lord will surely save (ch. 65).
Paul’s argument in this section began in 5:16. He is still concerned with living in the Spirit, but now he has turned his specific focus toward helping our fellow believers. More mature (“spiritual”) Christians should help those who are struggling in the faith. This is one often overlooked component of gathered worship. How much have you been helped, whether or not you have thought about it like this, just by seeing other Christians with their own weaknesses, sins, and doubts all together worshiping the same God? The fruit of the Spirit (5:22-23) have real implications in real life.
In his letter to the Romans, Paul wrote, “We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. For Christ did not please himself, but as it is written, ‘The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me’” (Romans 15:1-3). He is essentially saying the same thing here. We are never more like our Lord and Savior than when we support a brother or sister. The “law of Christ” likely refers to the two great commands that summarize the whole law of the old covenant: love God and love neighbor. The spirit of every other law is fulfilled by fulfilling these two.
Paul also tells the Galatians to compensate their teachers fairly. This is especially true when good teachers are faced with such opposition, as they were in Galatia. Whatever teaching the Galatians follow, they should know that they will receive the appropriate recompense from God, hence, “whatever one sows, that will he also reap” (6:7). When we are confronted with the gospel message, we are then responsible for our answer.
In his closing words, Paul takes the pen from his scribe and writes it himself. It was a way of putting a personal touch on all the harsh words he has just dictated, showing that he has said all of it in love. He quickly summarizes his complaints against the false teachers: they only want you to be circumcised and and keep the law to make themselves proud. They can’t even do it themselves! There is only one reason to boast in the Christian life, and it has nothing to do with our ability to be obedient. The only reason to boast in the Christian life is that Jesus Christ died for me, and I will boast in his greatness.
The letter to the Ephesians is one of Paul’s letters he wrote from prison. Two big themes makeup this letter: reconciliation and union. God has reconciled his people to himself, and Christ has united people from every tribe, tongue, nation, and people under himself. More than perhaps any other letter, Ephesians focuses on the cosmic scope of Christ’s person and work. Not only has Christ redeemed our souls, but he has redeemed every molecule of creation, from the center of the earth to the furthest reaches of the universe. This will be incredibly important for a city that was fascinated with mysticism and divination.
The letter begins with a typical opening and welcome. Paul is simply overwhelmed at the cosmic scope of redemption. From 1:3-14, Paul writes one huge, worshipful sentence. It’s about 127 words in the Greek. Most Bibles break it up into shorter sentences, otherwise it breaks every conceivable English convention. But in Greek, it’s perfectly normal.
In his opening sentence, he notes that we were chosen before the foundation of the world. There is nothing that we have done or that God foresaw that caused him to save us. But neither was his choice arbitrary. We do not know, and probably cannot understand, why God made the choice he did. But it is good and right, regardless of our finite understanding. Ultimately, beside whatever reasons he may have had, our election is to the praise of his glorious grace.
What is the inheritance we have obtained? An inheritance is something yet future, even if we have currently obtained it. It is a promise of something to be received later. So our inheritance is our fellowship with God and eternal life. Our promise is confirmed in the fact that we were predestined according to his own purposes. Predestination is often a term that receives a lot of pushback because it seems to make it so man has no responsibility. But that is the furthest thing from Paul’s mind. Predestination is meant to be a massive comfort for God’s people. Our sins were not too great for God to overcome, and what he has purchased for himself, he will not lose.
Christ is seated in heaven today. Paul says that means he is “far above all rule and authority and power and dominion” (1:21). There is no greater authority than that of Christ Jesus, through whom the world was created and through whom the cosmos was redeemed.
One of the most-quoted verses in Paul’s letters is Ephesians 2:8, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.” It is hard to get any clearer picture of redemption. Grace is not your own good work. Faith is not your own good work. The only good work that contributes to your redemption is Christ’s. Christ’s life and death are often broken down into two categories: his active obedience and his passive obedience. In his active obedience, Christ lived a life according to the covenantal law of Moses. He kept both the letter and the spirit of the law. He was a perfect sacrifice on the basis of his perfect life. In his passive obedience, he permitted the will of evil men to take place. He died an innocent man.
His obedience is what gave us access to the Father. Therefore, we are no longer a smattering of people groups but one united church who make up the household of God (2:19). And this was, in fact, a mystery only then revealed (3:4-6). That mystery was that the Gentiles are fellow heirs with the Jews without having to become Jewish! We believe the same gospel and receive the same promises. Paul’s ministry is to bring that mystery to light. This in-grafting of the Gentile vine into the branch of Israel shows the “manifold wisdom of God” (3:10). We will be turning the diamond of God’s wisdom until Christ returns, never exhausting its brilliance. We are only beginning to comprehend “the breadth and length and height and depth” (3:18) of the love of Christ.
Because of God’s love for us, we should seek to live a certain way. We should seek “to walk in a manner worthy of the calling” we have all received (4:1). Christ has unified us in his Spirit, and we seek to maintain it by supporting each other. Paul quotes Psalm 68:18 in Ephesians 4:8. In the Psalms, it is God who ascended and received gifts. In Ephesians, it is Christ who ascended and gave gifts. Paul tells us that those gifts were “apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers” (4:11). Like all believers, those gifts are not for building up of the self but of the church. Those specific gifts are are specifically about working toward. Unity of the faith and knowledge of Christ. These offices built the foundation of the church, of which Christ was the cornerstone. There is no substitute for sound doctrine. Worship is rudderless without doctrine. Missions are rudderless without doctrine. Discipleship is rudderless without doctrine. Nature abhors a vacuum, and if the Bible is not the source of our doctrine, something will fill that void. The church must always be reforming to the standard of the Scriptures.
Paul says twice in this letter that it is the Holy Spirit who “seals” us for the day of redemption, both in 1:13 and again in 4:30. In Romans 4:11, Paul says that Abraham “received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised.” Many Christian denominations equate baptism to circumcision, even going as far as claiming that it is only an “administrative” change. That means that baptism means what circumcision meant, that of inclusion in the covenant, old or new. Here, though, Paul seems to equate circumcision (the sign and seal of the old covenant) not to baptism but to the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit (the sign and seal of the new covenant). This has implications for ecclesiology, or the doctrine of the church. Who should receive the sign and seal of the new covenant? If baptism has essentially replaced circumcision, then the same people who received circumcision should be baptized, namely, offspring of those already in the covenant. However, if the indwelling presence of the Spirit has replaced circumcision, the the indwelling presence of the Spirit is what makes you a member of the new covenant. Therefore, only those who have already received the sign and seal of the new covenant should be baptized. Baptism is ritual of obedience and purity, not of entry into the new covenant. It is unavoidable that Peter does make connections between circumcision and baptism, and we will deal with that when those texts come up.
Paul then addresses how walking worthy of our calling plays out in real life. In general, we recluse ourselves from wicked people and wicked practices. Avoid darkness. In fact, we expose shameful acts, not ignore them or let them go on unchecked. We do not slander anyone, but we take on every false idea and, through well-formed arguments, prove them to be riddled with errors. He applies the same logic, that of walking worthy, to the household. Wives submit to husbands, and husbands loves their wives. Christ’s headship over the church proves his authority. A husband’s headship over his wife proves his authority. But the authority of a husband over his wife is modeled only in Christ’s authority over the church. It is an authority to love and protect, to be willing to give up ones very life. Likewise, children should recognize the authority of their parents and slaves the authority of their masters. The authority of the family is ordained by God and modeled in creation. Earthly authority typifies heavenly authority.
Paul concludes this letter with great encouragement for the Ephesian believers. In living the Christian life, in dealing with the wickedness of the world and the deceit of our own hearts, God has supplied us with his own armor. God gives us shields for defense and weapons for offense against cosmic evil powers. The result of picking up this armor is the ability to stand firm (6:13). We will be immovable because of God’s great gifts in Christ Jesus!