Reading Isaiah During Advent
Greetings and grace to you. We invite you to join us this Advent season in reading Isaiah. Will you?
Isaiah is a book specifically dedicated to Israel’s history — their past redemption, present disobedience, and the future promises of God’s deliverance. Isaiah is a stunning book, and not only is it essential to our faith — some calling it the fifth gospel — but it’s also a historically magnificent work to help return our redemptive gaze back to the highlights of God’s activity among his people.
The importance of the book is indicated by how frequently it is quoted in the New Testament. Isaiah is quoted by name twenty-one times, slightly more than all the other writing prophets taken together; and there are many more allusions and quotations where his name is not given. He has been called the evangelist of the Old Testament, and many of the most precious verses in the Bible come to us from his lips. The fact that the Lord began his public ministry at Nazareth by reading from Isaiah 61 and applying its prophetic words to himself is significant of the place that this book would come to hold in the Christian church.
In a helpful article on the structure of the book of Isaiah, Tony Reinke (read the full article here) says that if you thought our world was a mess of trouble and idolatry, enter the world of Isaiah. He then declares that:
“Isaiah is ‘(arguably) the darkest book in the Old Testament and (inarguably) the second most concentrated book of “joy” mentions in the Old Testament (only behind the Psalms), making it a perfect set-up read for Christmas, and one rooted deep in a broken world.”
Immediately obvious are the important prophecies for the Christmas season — passages like Isaiah 7:14 and Isaiah 9:6 stand out. In our preaching series, we will look at the names of Christ found in these two passages: Immanuel, Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace. But we are encouraging you to join us in reading the entire book during the Advent season as it offers key background that frames the majesty of Bethlehem.
In ‘Reading Isaiah for Christmas,’ Tony Reinke highlights how it is that Isaiah portrays for us what Christian theologians have taught for centuries concerning the three-fold office of Jesus Christ: “the word-speaking prophet, the sacrifice-offering priest, and the peace-bringing king.”
What makes reading through Isaiah so precious during advent is the reality that the book separates into three sections, and each section develops around one particular character whom God promises to send. “In the first 39 chapters, God promises a Davidic Ruler, a new king, will emerge. In the next 16 chapters, he promises a self-giving Servant will arrive. In the final 11 chapters, he promises a Messenger, a prophet of God’s redemption.”
Finally, Reinke notes: “Breaking Isaiah into three sections is not unique; students of the Bible have been making these breaks for a long time. What’s unique is that the trio of sections is here studied with particular emphasis on the central character in each of the section breaks, making the overall reading experience more personal (literally).” The royal, the prophetic, and the priestly — three characters in three persons in the Isaianic storyline. Each of these pointing ultimately to One person who will fulfill all three. This, my friend, is why the center of all joy is found in the person of Jesus. This is why the story Christmas is such wonder.
As we work through the three figures in Isaiah, and as we approach Christmas, the connections between them in Christ should become clearer and clearer. As we work from the details of our personal reading, and as we come together in Christmas worship, we will see all three strands, all three characters, come together in our magnificent Prophet-Priest-King born in Bethlehem.
WHO WAS ISAIAH?
Isaiah was of the upper class by birth and well-educated. He was a gifted preacher and poet, and was called by God to be a prophet (chapter 6) in Jerusalem. He was married and had two children. According to tradition, he was martyred by being sawn in two.
WHAT TIMES DID HE LIVE IN?
Isaiah prophesied in the eighth-century BC (c. 740-701 BC). At this time, Israel was divided into two nations, and he prophesied during the reigns of four different kings. It was a time of political turmoil because of the Assyrians looking to extend their empire through military force. Some of the kings refused to trust God and sought their own political solutions to the turmoil (Ahaz), while others trusted God and Isaiah’s words (Hezekiah). During the latter part of Isaiah’s ministry, he spoke out strongly against Israel’s leaders for their hypocrisy (1:10-15), greed (5:8), self-indulgence (5:11), and cynicism (5:19) and the moral destruction they were bringing on the nation. He prophesied Israel’s ultimate exile in Babylon (6:11-13), which took place in 722 BC. Isaiah also predicted the fall of Babylon and the salvation of Israel’s remnant, and he named Cyrus the Persian as the one who would restore the remnant. In addition to these words of prophecy about his own times, Isaiah prophesied about the Servant Savior who would come to establish a new covenant with Israel and be a light to the Gentiles.
WHAT IS THE THEME OF HIS BOOK?
Isaiah is preeminently the prophet of redemption. The greatness and majesty of God, his holiness and hatred of sin and the folly of idolatry, his grace and mercy and love, and the blessed rewards of obedience are constantly recurring themes. No wonder that the NT writers quote so often from Isaiah and that so much of Handel’s Messiah is taken from it. Redeemer and Savior are among Isaiah’s favorite words. The words that describe the character of the promised Messiah are frequently on his lips: wonderful counselor, mighty God, everlasting Father, prince of peace (9:6).
THE GOSPEL IN ISAIAH
The gospel is seen throughout the book of Isaiah, but is most clearly seen in Isaiah’s Servant songs (42:1–9; 49:1–13; 50:4–11; and 52:13—53:12) where the prophet tells of the Suffering Servant who will die on behalf of his people, taking upon himself their transgressions.
It is with great anticipation that I look forward to joining you in reading through Isaiah during Advent and worshiping Christ in our gatherings. Grace and peace to you.
His Kingdom is Forever,