Isaiah 2 - 4
chapters comprise the only unit in Isaiah with its own introduction (v.1). They
begin and end with faithful people on Mount
Zion: Gentiles in 2:2-4 and the
remnant of Israel
in 4:2-6. Between the two we find a detailed description of sin in Jerusalem. The intended
contrast is of the glorious future and the appalling present. Isaiah speaks of
religious (2:6-21) and social deviation (3:1-4:1), each prefaced with an exhortation.
This Scripture gives two bright but short predictions of future salvation with
a long review of its opposite in between. God’s announced judgments are
specifically connected to His peoples’ sin. Both the religious and the social
corruption result in intense and humiliating suffering for the wayward rebels
of Judah and Jerusalem. The prediction
of a worldwide coming to the Lord (2:2-4) speaks first to the worship of the
Lord by man and then to the (resulting) peace that man has with his fellow man.
It could be described as no more idolatry and no more war. Such blessing will come only by God’s
intervention as the Holy Spirit Who is the Spirit of judgment and the Spirit of
fire removes sin and cleanses from it (4:4). Only then will life in fellowship
with our Holy Lord be paradise produced and restored on earth.
2:1-5 Isaiah said Zion would be redeemed (1:27). In light of
its great sinfulness, its redemption is a wonder that only God can
accomplish. Chapter 2 now surprises us
with the news that salvation shall be so widespread, and so complete that
nations will stream to the Lord’s temple. Nothing in chapter one even hinted that
salvation would include Gentiles. It is a wonderful surprise. As is so often the case in Isaiah, this theme will return again and
again. In 11:9 we have an equally strong prediction of a salvation so
extensive it covers the entire earth.
streaming to Jerusalem is significant because Jerusalem is where God had
put His Name (Deuteronomy 12:11; Psalm 46:4,5). The
Lord was present there in His temple. Streaming to it is suggestive of coming
in worship. They are not going to their own mountains, mountains being the typical location of various gods. For God’s mountain to be
exalted as chief over all others shows He is the God of gods and the Lord of
lords (Deuteronomy 10:17; Revelation 17:14) These Gentiles leave their gods to
go to the God of Israel. They do not come as tourists to visit; they come to
receive and obey the law of the Lord. Their desire is to do the will of God. They
stream uphill, up Mount Zion
by God’s supernatural pull, drawing them to come to Him.
are against the law as a means of justification, but joyfully embrace the law
as it shows us what true holiness is. Reformed theology recognizes three uses
of the law:
To define righteousness, and thus
condemn sin as sin.
To show the sinner his helpless
condition, and thus his need of Christ.
To be the rule of a life pleasing to God,
essential for fellowship with Him.
What we have in 2:1-5 is shocking – obedient
Gentiles! This is unheard of! Israel departed from the law of God
by following the nations in idolatry and immorality. Now it is announced that the nations will
follow the Lord God of Israel,
the same Lord Israel
was not following. Two pathetic facts describe much of history: 1) Israel, the
only people on earth that had the true God, did not remain true to Him, 2)
while the nations with false gods were dedicated to their false gods. In Isaiah 2 we see the second situation
radically changed. In Romans 11:11-32 we learn of Gentiles “coming in” and with
Israelites returning later. That Gentiles would believe in the God of Israel was
something Paul hoped would stir jealousy among his Jewish brothers (Romans
11:14) provoking them to return. Other
prophets tell us Israel will
someday repent as in Hosea 3:4,5 where Hosea speaks of
returning in contrition. Isaiah will have much to add to that later; right now
the news is the salvation of Gentiles.
They come in sincerity. They encourage each
other (v.3); they want to learn God’s will, whatever it is, so that they can do
it (v.3). This is not a nominal confession of the Lord; it is fervent
wholehearted obedience. As the Lord
issues His word and decisions for their lives, they learn and obey. Unlike Israel, still noted for murder and
bloodshed (1:15,21), the heathen will get rid of their
weapons for killing their neighbors and turn them into tools for farming. The salvation of the nations is no empty
profession; their faith will be revealed in transformed conduct.
So how does the prophet appeal to his own
people with these facts? He calls on
them to walk in the light of the Lord (v.5), because they are supposed to know
Him, and he urges them to live the way their pagan neighbors some day will. The nations will stream to the Lord. Israel, God’s covenant people, have turned their backs on the Lord (1:4). May Israel be shamed by the future
devotion of the heathen. The message is pointed: Let us
walk now the way they shall.
When will this be? We are simply told it will be in the last
days. When the Bible is vague, we should
be vague. When the Bible is specific, we
should be as well. Here it is
vague. Sometimes it will say, “in that day”. When it
does, we search for a context. Sometimes
it simply means, “in that future time I am speaking about”. God has rarely revealed a specific time in
predicted events (Acts 1:7). So the best way to read Isaiah 2:1-5, is to
meditate on what it does say and to leave to other passages to supply more.
Some day the Gentile saints are going to come marching in! (I say it has
Next Isaiah switched to
Israelites devoted to the practices of the heathen (vv. 6 & 8). We just saw that the heathen would one day be
devoted to the Lord of Israel. Yet poor Judah was still caught up in what
the nations would one day abandon. The jarring contrast appears in the verses
that follow 2:1-5.
God is not
passive; He does react to sin. Sometimes
Scripture pictures that sinners will be punished with fire, or made to
experience God’s wrath or pain at His hand.
Isaiah shows another side of the judgment of God. Man
will be humbled while God will be exalted.
This is the background of all of vv. 9-22. When it says ‘man’ in v. 22, remember in this
context it is man in contrast with God – man unable to resist God, man who
lacks the life God has. Man has but a breath in his nostrils. Man brought low is contrasted with God
exalted high, splendid in His majesty.
God gained glory by destroying the army of Egypt in Exodus 14:17,18.
Some features of this
had spurned God; now He has in some sense abandoned them (v.6). There is no
threat of judgment in the Bible that does not actually occur to some
disobedient soul. This is not an idle word that is later reversed for
everybody. God has never made an idle threat.
2) We read of a certain day without being told
when that day will be (vv.11,12,17,20). What we need
to know is that God has such a day in mind; its time is known to Him.
3) Hiding in rocks (v.10 & 19) is the
picture of morbid fear. This same hiding
in rocks and caves is found in Revelation 6:15-17. There we read that the time had come, the
great day of God’s wrath.
4) The imagery of the proud, high and lofty
being “brought low” (v.9) is used figuratively as if God were going to slice
the tops off ships, mountains, and trees (vv. 12-17). Isaiah speaks in a number of places of the
pride of man and his vaunted wisdom. (A classic statement is Isaiah 29:14,
quoted in 1 Corinthians 1:19.) We are influenced by
great men. They may have great power over us. If they counsel against the word
of God, they will be humbled. God will defend His glory and not allow what is
His alone to be held by any competitor.
5) This humbling exposes the falseness of idols
(v.20). Once men cherished and worshipped them and the spirit powers the idols
represented. When shown to be unable to help, men will throw them away in
disgust even if made of gold. Only the Lord will be exalted in that day
the earth is one more image of God’s judgment, used also in Hebrews
12:26-29, quoting Haggai 2:6,7.
7) Faith is believing the
truth of a promise, but the same act is one of trusting the promise maker. What
we believe is important, but it cannot be separated from the one we trust.
Isaiah’s “stop trusting in man” (v.22), fits his message to trust in the
Lord. The first major section of the
Book of Isaiah ends with Isaiah 12. There the believer sings this psalm,
“Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid.” Everything we read in 2:6-22 is the opposite
of those words.
Summary: Isaiah 2:6-22 gives a brief review
of idolatry (3 vv), and a long presentation of the final judgment of God (14
vv). Chapter 3 gives prophesies of the more immediate judgment of God, speaking
of what was happening then or about to, as in 1:5-9.
Judgment current and ultimate The final
judgment is at the coming of Christ. The dead will be made to stand before God.
Meanwhile, God’s wrath remains on the unbeliever (John 3:36). The believer in
the Lord Jesus is not under condemnation, nor the wrath or curse of God (Romans
8:1; Galatians 3:13). Instead we face fatherly
chastening for sin, His discipline for our growth in grace, which only shows
that He has not rejected us but treats us as His children (Hebrews 12:4-14).
3:1 – 4:1 Much of chapter 3 details the privation and
chaos in the infrastructure of the nation.
Things are falling apart. Notable
will be their lack of men as leaders, resulting in pathetic solutions such as
being governed by children, and seven women all begging to marry the same
man. Particular attention is devoted to
the pride and indulgence of haughty women, resulting in their pitiful
3:1-8 “Jerusalem staggers,” and v.8
says why. Their words and deeds are both
against the Lord. That would describe
any and every action of disagreement with His Word. Sin is not merely transgression of a
commandment; it is defiance of the Lord God who has spoken. But there is one more element that can only
be true of a place like Jerusalem. They defied His presence – something one could not do unless the
presence of the Lord was among them so that it could be defied! This is the
level of their sin; they rejected the holy Lord Who committed
Himself to them and condescended to be among them; they defied His glorious
presence. He said in 42:8 “I am the LORD; that is my name! I will not give my
glory to another or my praise to idols.” God is a defender of His glory.
Inside the temple was a chest or box containing
the Ten Commandments, the covenantal commitment God had made with Israel and Israel with God. In Exodus 19:7,8
before receiving the Ten Commandments, they promised to obey. The Lord still lived in that temple, so the
sin of Jerusalem
was to His face, and in a special sense was done against His glorious
presence. Years later the Lord would
show that He was leaving that temple (Ezekiel 10) but in the days of Isaiah He
was still among them. That He remained
so long is testimony to His patience and seriousness about the covenant He had
made with them. They were not faithful,
but He was and is.
3:13-15 A Day in Court. We simply are not reading the Bible if we
fail to see that God is Judge. The
Judgment Day is essential to His exercise of holiness and justice, which
includes both punishment for sin and positive reward for obedience. Isaiah
opens with a complaint against His people, an indictment with a judicial tone.
Here He judges His people (v.14) specifically for their treatment of the poor.
In chapter one His opening complaint had to do with their rejection of
Him. Here in chapter 3, his accusation
relates to treatment of their neighbors. The leaders of the Lord’s people were
crushing God’s people. (The court scene
will reappear in Isaiah 43:9.26.)
special note on the women This judicial
charge comes immediately after words of the poor being abused. It is fair when the material is arranged this
way – and this arrangement is always deliberate – to think the rich women are
rich because they had the plunder of the poor in their houses. My count shows 23 items the women have,
especially things to wear or attach to their beautiful bodies. They think they are gorgeous, but in God’s
judgment they will end up with sores and baldness, with stench rather than the
aroma of perfume. They go from strutting
(v.16) to mourning; from decadent wealth to destitution. Stealing from the poor led to God stripping
them of all they had. The passage begins
with pride and ends in disgrace, a typical scenario in all of life. Most of this section is poetry, but the list
of jewelry and fashion items in vv. 18-23 is prose.
This section of Isaiah ends with this brief
paragraph, which parallels the glorious future in 2:2-4. It includes an unusual
presentation of Christ, Who is the glory of the believing remnant. For them
there is a saving transformation. Some women, whose only beauty was outward
adornment, will be cleansed and turned into holy women. This purging is to be
done by the Holy Spirit. All this adds up to genuine salvation that comes from
a union with Christ. (Because the theme of the remnant is back, a major appendix
is added to this lesson, Appendix A, The Impact of Remnant Doctrine on
symbols of God’s glory over the wilderness tabernacle express the Presence of
God. The canopy of v.5 is a marriage canopy. Finally Israel will be joined to the Lord
with full access to Him. The Old Testament also looks forward to the Marriage Supper
of the Lamb. No threat can ever affect God’s people again, with no more sin and
no need for judgment. Christ is our shelter and refuge. In 2:2-4 the nations come to the Lord they
never knew. In 4:2-6, Israel
comes to the Lord she never fully obeyed.
4:2 The Real Beauty Coming So much for the beauty that was ugly. Now we have a gem of genuine beauty. In that day the Branch of the LORD will be beautiful
and glorious This beauty is a contrast to the women of
chapter 3 whose beauty was external, in jewelry, clothes, and cosmetics, but
not in character. Chapters 2 and 3 give a picture of shameful idolatry and the
loss of leaders. The dreadful judgment of God was deserved (2:9-21). There was
nothing to be proud of as the nation disintegrated. It spoke and acted against
the glorious presence of God among His people in Jerusalem; they paraded their sin (3:9). Arrogance
needed to be brought low (2:17). The glory of God had been defied (3:8). A new
delight would replace the former pride. In 4:2, four nouns describe what is
coming: adornment, glory, pride, and beauty.
What is the prophet predicting? It is either a
wonderful fruitfulness in the sense of agriculture, or there is a fruitfulness in the Person Who as the Branch of the LORD is
from the LORD. Yet this Person is so human that He comes from the land. The
language here is of such absolute glory it is hardly fitting to vegetation.
Why should we interpret
this text as speaking of Christ?
Christ is called the Branch in 11:1,
Jeremiah 23:5 & 33:15, Zechariah 3:8 & 6:12. These five texts are
Messianic. We have good reason to read 4:2 the same way.
“Branch” may refer to a family tree.
Trees do have branches. To identify one’s family tree is to say where a person
comes from. This Branch “of the LORD” in 4:2 is in the family tree of God. It
is another way to speak of the Messiah as God. This does not imply that a tree
preceded a branch. Christ is an eternal person. It does indicate source and
origin. He is the LORD from the LORD.
This Branch is the fruit of the land.
Just as man comes from the earth, the Lord from heaven (amazingly) would be “a
root out of dry ground” (53:2). The name Adam is from the Hebrew word for the
ground or earth. The “Lord of glory” (1 Corinthians 2:8) took on human flesh
like ours. The text presents a divine origin/connection/life (which is the full
nature of God) and an earthly existence. Here are the two natures of Christ.
But this is not unusual in Isaiah; the human son of the virgin woman will be
“God with us” (7:14).
As mentioned above, the descriptions of
beauty and glory are absolute. They fit Christ not crops. A branch has fruit
and the ground produces fruit, but this fruit is also what has come to us from
the LORD. This fits His being the One sent, so often asserted in the Gospel of
John. Christ did not appear from nowhere, either as to His human nature or as the
Son of His Father.
He is the pride and glory of the
believing remnant! A farmer can be justly proud of his “glorious” (!) tomatoes
or delicious cherries, but that is using glory is a relative sense. We glory in Christ
as One worthy of all praise and adoration. We give
full credit to Christ for any and all attractiveness that has come to us in Him,
as we “are
being transformed into His likeness with ever increasing glory…” (2 Corinthians 3:18). The sinful beauty paraded about in
chapter 3, contrasts with real beauty in chapter 4.
We should be careful about forcing
theological truth from one passage into another one, when two passages may not
have the same thing in mind. Note that the cleansing in 4:2-6 is by the Holy
Spirit. It is in terms of fruitfulness in Christ, and then will speak of our
marriage union with Him in 4:5. Thus we ought to consider Christ as the fruit
of both God and the land. He has become our
pride and glory, as the result of our union with Christ. Romans
6 makes union with Christ the basis of all holiness to be found in us.
Thus chapters 2 and 3 show the rotten fruit of life severed from God, and
chapter 4 shows the genuineness of life flowing from Christ (John 15:1-8).
4:2-4 asserts the glory of Christ as native to Christ, and because of our union
with Him the fruit of His Spirit (not native to any sinner) is now being
produced in us (Galatians 5:22,23). When this production is complete, we shall
be in His likeness (Philippians
3:21; Romans 8:29; 1 John 3:2). “Everyone who
has the hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure” (1
John 3:3). This understanding of union with Christ in 4:2 is supported by the
marriage union canopy over Mount
Zion. The Lord and His
people will be united. The greatest remedy against sinful pride is unbounded pride
in Christ. Glorying in Christ leaves no room for another kind. The Branch of
the Lord will be the pride of the survivors in Israel.
4:3,4 The survivors are made holy, and are recorded or
registered in God’s book as His. (See Malachi 3:16-18.) It does not say who
wrote our names in, but I suggest that only God writes in His book. Being officially
recorded has to do with our status. God’s justifying act is a change of status.
We must remember that everyone justified is also being sanctified (a change in
life) by a work of God.
Christ is both our righteousness and our holiness (1 Corinthians 1:30).
The sin of women was prominent in chapter 3; here
we have the opposite as the women of Zion
are cleansed. Filth in Hebrew is vomit. Chapter 3 focuses on her
outward vanity, but a cleansing of ‘filth” within indicates an inner
transformation. “Spirit” in this text cannot be an impersonal force such as
wind. Much attention is given in Isaiah to the Spirit, especially in Messianic
passages (11:1,2 & 61:1). Surely the cleansing is
by the Spirit (with a capital “S”), as Christ baptizes with the Holy Spirit and
fire (Matthew 3:11). A Spirit of judgment and fire indicates the Spirit’s
aggressive opposition to sin. The Holy Spirit carries on relentless warfare
against sin within His people (Galatians 5:17).
The ultimate judgment by fire was endured by
Christ when He gave Himself as a sacrifice to turn away the wrath of God from
us, when He took it on Himself (Romans 3:25; Luke 12:49,50,
1 John 4:10). Judgment must fall on the
sinner who committed it, or on the Substitute God has provided.
4:5,6 In a new creation, the registered citizens
of Mount Zion are all assembled in the Presence
of the Lord. This is the opposite of those worship assemblies so repugnant to God in
1:13. As the cloud and fire of Exodus 13:21,22 showed
God’s protective Presence, that Presence shall be the delight of the remnant.
It was the glory of God manifested on earth. Later, humans could see the glory
of God in God the Son (John 1:14). Now the marriage celebration has come for
the cleansed bride (Revelation 19:7,8). The shame of
seven women seeking one man is over (4:1). The setting of this marriage is
under the glory of the Lord. And our Lord, who endured the blast of divine
judgment for our sins on the cross, has become a shade for
His own from that same divine heat, and our refuge from the storm. In
Exodus 40:34-38 when the glory of God appeared over the tabernacle, Moses could
not enter the Tent of Meeting. Here in Isaiah 4, the bride is brought into her
canopy, into the Lord’s Presence. Canopy always depicts a “marriage chamber” (Joel
2:16; Psalm 19:5). Before Christ secured our entry into the Most Holy Place by His blood (Hebrews
10:19-22) access had been denied. When the cleansing of the bride is complete
at the Second Coming, the open canopy replaces the restrictive Tabernacle with
its obstructing fence and forbidding veils. (For Christ as our refuge (32:1,2; 25:4), see Appendix A below.)
Isaiah 2-4 begins with the salvation of the
heathen nations and ends with the salvation of those who are left in Jerusalem. One day the believing remnant will comprise
the entire nation, and all nations will join this remnant (14:1). Then the
remaining population of the earth shall truly be a holy people and a united
The Impact of Remnant Doctrine on Current
A Vital Distinction Isaiah speaks of survivors in 1:9. Then in chapter 4 the Branch of the Lord is
“the pride and glory of the survivors
Additional synonyms for survivors appear as “those who are left in Zion, who remain in Jerusalem” (4:3). In 10:20-22 and 37:31,32 the word remnant
is used with the identical meaning. (See also Zephaniah 2:9). Remnant has become the term of choice
for this Biblical subject. Its use in 10:20-22 is so emphatic that we must
conclude that the Lord has decided to make this matter very plain. It says that
a remnant will survive and only a remnant will return. The Apostle Paul quoted
both 1:9 and 10:22,23 in Romans 9:27-29. The apostle
taught that of the totality of Israel,
only some were true Israel
(Romans 9:6). To the apostle, understanding the remnant is essential to
understanding the Old Testament, and the continued rejection of the Lord by Israel
in New Testament times. The concept of
remnant was one of Paul’s chief explanations of Jewish acceptance and rejection
of the gospel. His argument went something like this: “This current rejection
by my people is exactly the way it has always been; only some believe, and many
A Spiritual Dimension The remnant
theme is not a mere matter of people physically surviving a judgment. Scripture
highlights salvation when it speaks of these survivors as cleansed by the work of God’s Spirit (4:4). They are called holy. As those with eternal life, they
are recorded among the living (4:3).
Where else could such a record be but in the Book of Life? (See Revelation
20:12.) The opposite of being taken away in judgment is to survive, to remain,
and to be there among the living in Zion.
In Zion the
Lord’s people find refuge (14:32) in the Lord Who is their
refuge/shelter/shade (25:1-5). In 32:1,2, Christ is
predicted as this refuge. The remnant took shelter in Him. Those who rejected
Christ as their shelter were left with a desolate house (Matthew 23:37).
Claimed vs. Cleansed The
remnant is God’s holy people (4:3), but “holy people” or “My people” may also
refer to the entire nation, whether they believed or not. Many times the entire
nation was called God’s people. They were holy in the sense that they were the
Lord’s by covenant, whether they kept covenant with Him or not. A person cannot
break a covenant without being in it. (If there are two married men one
faithful to his wife and one not, both can be said to be married but only one
can be said to being truly married.) The personal salvation of each person in
the remnant is asserted in that they were washed and cleansed (4:4). This is
what distinguishes the remnant from the rest who were in a covenant
relationship yet had forsaken the Lord (1:4). This washing is not ritual but
reality. Salvation is not an external act of God on our skin; it is the
cleansing of the conscience (Hebrews 9:14). The washing in Isaiah 4 is not with
water, but by God’s Spirit of judgment and fire as in Matthew 3:11. Ritual does
not create this spiritual life. Instead, “…
we were all baptized by[Christ with]
one Spirit into one body – whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free – and we were
all given [by Christ] the one Spirit
to drink” (1 Corinthians 12:13). So the remnant is not a claimed people who
may or may not respond in faith and obedience; they are a cleansed people. This
is the language of transformation.
The Response of Faith In Isaiah 10
another element is explicit when the remnant’s response is in view. Before this,
when we read of the remnant receiving salvation, the focus was on what the Lord
does to change them. 10:20-22 speaks of their faith. They will truly rely on the Lord (NIV), or it may be rendered that they “will lean on the LORD, the Holy One of Israel,
in truth” (ESV). Their return is to the
Mighty God (the same title used for Christ in 9:6). Only the remnant will return,
and it is Christ to Whom they return. He is the object
of their faith. This is the language of conversion.
A Distinction in the New Testament Also When Paul proclaimed in Romans 10:12 that all who call
on the Name of the Lord shall be saved, he still had in mind the remnant theme stated
earlier in Romans 9. He quoted part of Joel 2:32, which says, “And everyone who calls on the name of the
LORD will be saved; for on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem
there will be deliverance, as the LORD has said, among the survivors whom the
LORD calls.” The remnant are those whom God has
called, and thus those who call on the Lord in faith. These are individuals
saved by faith, who then bear good fruit (37:31). Whenever a prophet indicated
that there will be no survivors in any people group, he was saying by that that
none of them would be saved (14:22,30 and Obadiah
Paul was not alone in
teaching this doctrine. The Lord Jesus also recognized that there were children
of Abraham who lacked Abraham’s faith. “I
know that you are Abraham's descendants” (John 8:37). Unlike Abraham who
believed, they were the holy people of the Lord in an external sense only,
unbelievers lacking the fruit of genuine faith, even having the devil as their
father (John 8:31-47). By faith Abraham rejoiced to see Jesus’ day, but when
that day had arrived, some of Abraham’s children who were born into great
covenant privilege, picked up stones to kill their father’s Lord. They were
Abraham’s descendents by covenant and circumcision, but not by conversion.
Division Among God’s covenant people there were
rebels (1:2). At the time Isaiah wrote, rebels were the clear majority. Not a
few, but many would fall (8:15), yet there would still be believers. The
remnant is the stump of a fallen tree. That dead tree was apostate Israel.
That remnant stump was the only part of the Israel tree with spiritual life.
The remnant people are the holy seed, just as Isaac was, and Ishmael was not
(Genesis 21:12). For both stump and seed, see Isaiah 6:10-13. Isaiah 4 teaches
that all who will be assembled on Mount
Zion will be true
believers. (Note Hebrews 12:22.) Unbelievers will be outside. Believers enter Jerusalem to approach the
Lord (66:20,23), but to see the rebels they would need
to go outside (66:24).
Separation Note the basic distinction in Revelation
22:14,15 where some are in and others outside. God had said repeatedly that He
God and repeatedly that they were His people. (See Exodus 7:4,16;
29:45,46 for a small sample.) Except for the believing remnant, only the Lord
was faithful to this covenant bond. Even then, the remnant was faithful only because
God had cleansed them bringing them to repentance and faith. For believers, the
covenant became a living union with Christ. In the end, only the remnant are the covenant people. Note the covenant language
of the redeemed in the New Jerusalem. “…They
will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God”
(Revelation 21:3). In eternity the covenant people will be comprised of
believers only. Salvation will be the experience of the entire number in the
holy city, no longer just a fraction of it. Believers will not be a remnant
piece off the larger roll; they will be the whole thing. The “not my people” verdict
(Romans 9:25,26), will be God’s fully implemented
rejection of unbelievers. They will be sons
of the kingdom in hell (Matthew 8:12). God will exclude them even though
they were once people of such high privilege (Romans 9:1-5). They shall not be admitted,
for “nothing impure will ever enter it,
nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose
names are written in the Lamb's book of life” (Revelation 21:27; Isaiah 4:3).
Remnant always implies that something is partial, but when all rebels will be
removed, the term remnant must be
retired from use. Why? “In that day” (4:2) the people of God will be comprised
of cleansed people only. Remnant describes a fraction, but in the new earth the
home of righteousness (2 Peter 3:10-13) all
shall know the Lord from the least to the greatest (Jeremiah 31:34; Isaiah
11:9). The remnant will become the whole.
The Reason there is a Remnant Why would
Sodom be destroyed and Jerusalem spared to have survivors? The remnant do not claim God’s mercy on them for their
righteousness. They speak very differently in Isaiah 53, confessing that they
were those who at one time did not esteem Christ. They viewed His death as if
He had been stricken by God deservedly. To their amazement they found that it
was for them He had been pierced. Once they were bent on going astray, all of
them, yet their iniquity had been laid on Christ. He was stricken for their
transgressions, and by His knowledge He brought them justification. There is no
self-righteousness here. (See also 59:9-13.) God was not exaggerating when He
called Jerusalem Sodom (1:10); why then did
God deal so differently with Israel?
Centuries earlier, the Lord had given His answer for this in Leviticus 26:44,45:
Yet in spite of this, when they are in the land of
their enemies, I will not reject them or abhor them so as to destroy them completely, breaking my covenant with them. I
am the LORD their God. But for their sake I will remember the covenant with
their ancestors whom I brought out of Egypt in the sight of the nations
to be their God. I am the LORD.' "
[Note more in 26:40-45.]
The lost in Israel were lost because of their
unbelief; but the remnant were saved, because within this wayward people God had an
elect according to grace. He would have mercy on whom He would have mercy
(Romans 9:15), and there was a “remnant
according to the election of grace” (Romans 11:5).
The Connection with Christ Isaiah 6:13 says without elaboration, “The holy seed is the stump.” Naturally seed (a collective word) may refer to a people. Here in Isaiah 6,
it does. But in Galatians 3:16, seed (in the singular) refers to Christ. The
remnant trusts in Christ (Isaiah 10). The connection with Christ comes into the
open in 11:1, “There shall come forth a
shoot from the stump of Jesse and a branch from his roots…” Isaiah taught
first about drastic judgment with only a stump surviving. Then, by the Holy
Spirit he added that Christ will emerge from that remnant stump. Christ came
from David the son of Jesse. He, a tender
plant and a root out of dry ground (53:2), is the shoot Who
was endowed with the Spirit (11:2; Mark 1:9-11). He is the Banner the Gentiles
will seek (11:10), and the One Who will gather His remnant from all directions
on earth (11:11). Christ and the remnant are joined; both come from the stump.
Any definition of the genuine Israel
that excludes Jesus Christ as the source of life in it is false. Any Israel
that excludes Jesus Christ, as the State of Israel does, cannot be the seed of
Abraham. He is the father only of those who believe (Romans 4:11,12,16-18). We must not create exceptions. “If you are
Christ’s, then you are Abrahams’ seed, and heirs according to the promise”
(Galatians 3:29). Many evangelicals mistakenly focus on the fallen tree, a dead
tree. They are looking in the wrong place, because the channel of all blessing
in this world is in the stump, out of which the living shoot has come, our Lord
Three Controversial Implications
The State of Israel The concept of survivors involves the truth that God has
preserved those He would save. In the days of Noah, God did not destroy the
entire population of the earth; He saved a remnant of eight. In covenant mercy,
God did not wipe out Jerusalem the way He did Sodom and Gomorrah
(1:9). The survivor/no survivor difference reveals on one hand patient grace to
Israel and on the other,
final judgment on Sodom.
In 70 AD when the Romans destroyed Jerusalem,
there were no survivors. Those who believed Christ knew from Matthew 24:15-21
to flee. By the warning believers heeded, God removed the remnant from Jerusalem. The
destruction, of a Sodom kind, was a way God
showed His rejection of the Jerusalem
which no longer had a remnant.
written before 70 AD, asserted two things related to this:
The long delay of Israel
for forty years in the desert was so that not
one God rejecter of that generation could enter His rest (Hebrews 3:7 –
4:3). God likewise gave forty years after the crucifixion of Christ in 30 AD
existed. This Jerusalem with continuance is Mount Zion,
the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem
(Hebrews 12:22). All who believe are part of that Jerusalem. Like Abraham we wait for a city whose builder and maker is
God (Hebrews 11:10). With the Old Testament saints we desire a better country,
and we live by faith concerning this place not
yet seen (Hebrews 11:1,2,7), believing God has
prepared a city for us, as in Hebrews 11:16. Never does the Book of Hebrews
make the visible city of Jerusalem the focus of
God’s program for His people.
Apostle Paul spoke in the same way of two Jerusalems in Galatians 4:22-26. One,
the present city of Jerusalem (the one without survivors in
70 AD was like the son of Hagar, the offspring of unbelief. The other city, the Jerusalem
that is above, is free.
Similarly, in Philippians 3:20, Paul told Christians that their citizenship is
spite of Biblical evidence against it [See the added note below], many today
believe that the earthly nation of Israel is the seed of Isaac, heir to the
Israel’s ancient promises, and the Israel of God’s blessing. The promises of
God are enjoyed only in Christ (2 Corinthians 1:20), so to reject Christ (as
the nation of Israel
does) is to step outside God’s promises. The Lord has never indicated that He
will apply the benefits of Christ to those who reject Him. Having turned the
gospel down by rejecting the Son of David as their king, they thereby gave up
all claim of being the true Israel.
destroyed in 70 AD had no survivors. That city and any successor to it is not
God’s remnant. The only way back to the covenanted promises to Abraham is to
receive the Son of David and thereby to enter His kingdom. This will bring not
only possession of the land
of Israel, but of the
entire world (Romans 4:13; Matthew 5: 5). Thus there are two Israel’s: the apostate and the
true. Which one does God bless as His remnant? We do not need to choose, for by
its rejection of the Anointed Son of God and David (Psalm 2), the Israel
“which now is” (Galatians 4:25) has answered the question for us. The crux of
interpretation is to settle this question: “Is the current state of Israel the true seed of Abraham,
and thus beneficiaries of Abraham’s promises?” Anyone who answers “yes” to that
has adopted a doctrine (unintentionally, I hope) in which the blessings of God
are bestowed apart from faith in Christ. That ought to make us pause and
retreat from such a position. The doctrine of the remnant should help us
distinguish between the false and the true Israel. The true Israel is the one to which you were
admitted when you believed in Christ (Ephesians 2:11-22; 3:6). It is the church of Christ.
2) The Baptism
of Believers Only Just as there was a believing Israel within the nation of Israel, so it
is with the visible church. Beyond doubt, the covenant sign of circumcision was
initially for the entire covenant community, though applied to males only. It
was not commanded as something the believing remnant should practice. If it
were remnant circumcision, then such a feature would line up well with
believers’ baptism today, because the remnant was identified by faith.
Circumcision was for those entering the covenant, of any age, whether elect or
not, whether they were ever regenerated or not. In Reformed theology, we say
the same thing: the sign is a covenant sign; we do not say from it that that
person is a believer. We do not think of it as a remnant sign. Just as the
gospel proclaimed may be heard without faith, the same gospel may be set before
our eyes in a sacred washing without faith being present. God joins His
gracious words of promise to baptism, but the ritual itself does not unite to
Christ. We are united only by faith. Many die rejecting Christ and join the
ranks of baptized covenant breakers in hell. Like circumcision, baptism calls
for faith in the One Whose Name and claim is placed upon us, and Whose saving gospel promise is given to us.
We are often reminded of the
fact that the New Testament never gives an example of the baptism of any
infant, nor does it ever command such. This seems to be a fatal flaw in our
practice. The answer is that believers today are explicitly said to be children
of Abraham, heirs of those very promises (Galatians 3:29). Then too, we lack
any word to rescind placing the covenant sign on our infant children, because
God has not instructed us that He has changed how He has chosen to administer
His covenant. For this reason, we say we are not at liberty to deny the
covenant sign to covenant children. The silence of Scripture on this is a
greater problem for those who limit baptism to a later exercise of faith than
it is for applying the covenant sign to covenant children, as was the case in
the Old Testament. The tendency to do this may be on the assumption that
baptism is first of all a response to the Lord, as in “following the Lord in
baptism”. In some sense, this is so
as in the case of adult baptism, where we DO require a confession of faith, but
baptism (like the Lord’s Supper) is first and foremost a gospel communication to us, before it is a response from us.
3) The Federal
Vision Movement The matter
of baptism has been an unsettled difference among Christians for centuries. Zionism
is more recent in evangelical circles, about a century old. (The
pivotal Balfour Declaration supporting Zionism was in 1917.) The Federal
Vision has come out in the open within conservative reformed circles since
2000. It undoubtedly percolated subsurface for a few years previously. I have
not a scarp of information of what they may have said or would say directly
about the concept of a remnant. But I will address it anyway. If they avoid the
issue, they have good reason to leave it alone.
What is clear in the Federal
Vision movement (or “conversation”) is the notion that all enter covenant with
the Lord by water baptism. By this they mean that one is united to Christ in a
living spiritual bond by means of water baptism. Yes, they have said that and
more. They do not insist that there must be faith in order to be united to
Christ, because, in their view, union with Christ is simply effected
by baptism. (This is a rejection of Heidelberg Catechism Q. & A. 32.) Under
great pressure, they admit that all the baptized have all the spiritual
benefits with the obvious exception of perseverance, because, in their view, a
person truly united to Christ may yet lose spiritual benefits by apostasy.
Furthermore, Roman Catholics are united to Christ by their Trinitarian baptism;
therefore evangelism is to call on them to repent of their sins re the mass and
Mary, etc. If they do not they will lose their union with Christ. In this way,
evangelism becomes a call for our
obedience, rather than an announcement of Christ’s. Evangelism is “if we can
just get people baptized” and then instructed. In its worst form, FV teachers
sidestep the obedience of Christ for us, and some even deny the imputed
righteousness of Christ, or accept as orthodox those who do. Though they would
object to my wording, some of them are really teaching that we will be saved by
our covenant keeping, not Christ’s in
our place. (This is frightfully close to Roman Catholic theology.)
They say that all enter
covenant by baptism, and all are in covenant in the same way. There is no
invisible church distinguished from the visible church. There is no
internal/external covenant relationship. Such distinctions are rejected. The
congregation is not addressed with the likelihood that some may not be truly
saved, because all (“head for head”) are in covenant in precisely the same way
and there is no other way. The church you see is all there is. There is no real church of true believers
distinguished from the visible community of church members professing
Christ and practicing Christian sacraments. In other words, though I have never
heard them say so, there is no remnant,
for the simple reason that the very idea of a remnant does not fit in with one
of the main elements of their system of doctrine. They deny that there are two
ways a person may be in covenant with the Lord: 1) as a covenant member
externally, or 2) in spiritual reality. Further analysis is not called for in
this appendix. That teaching is a matter now under competent review in the
URCNA. Synod spoke against this doctrine in 2007; now we wait for detailed
scrutiny. Hopefully, Federal Vision doctrine will be ground to a fine powder on
a very windy day.
What I have written will not
fit every advocate of the movement, but this is a general appraisal of it. Though they dislike the term baptismal regeneration, some even teach
(not very openly) that justification is by water baptism. My point is this: in
Isaiah especially, there is abundant evidence that there was a covenant
community of God’s holy people, Israel,
yet many in Israel
were covenant breaking rebels. Then there were survivors who were a believing remnant. I would be utterly amazed
to hear any Federal Vision advocate admit that this plain distinction exists in
Scripture, chiefly because it runs directly counter to the heart of their
teaching. However, the chief danger in the Federal Vision is not a distorted
view of the remnant, but something far more basic (though related), namely, a
twisted doctrine of salvation by baptism. If there were only
two choices available to me personally, whether to link with the Federal Vision
or join a Baptist church, I would join the Baptist church immediately.
Baptist doctrine does not replace salvation by faith with the error of
salvation by baptism.
first diagram below shows different views of who should be baptized. It also
shows in the case of the Federal Vision where a theology can go if we fail to
see the Bible’s teaching of a remnant of true believers (infallibly known by
and visible to God alone). This believing remnant is within the visible church
which professes to belong to the Lord, a profession true for many members, but
the Lord’s church also has in it those who do not. The Lord knows those who are
Who Should Be
Covenantal Baptism is the
outward sign of a covenant bond
Baptism is an outward sign
limited to professors of an inward reality
Federal Vision teachers
issued a statement in 2007, after some frank rejections of their position by
reformed courts addressing their doctrine. One surprise statement they made is
The Visible and Invisible Church
We affirm that there is only one true Church, and that this Church can
legitimately be considered under various descriptions, including the aspects of
visible and invisible. We further affirm that the visible Church is the true Church of Christ, and not an “approximate” Church.
We deny that such a distinction excludes other helpful distinctions,
such as the historical church and eschatological church. The historical Church
generally corresponds to the visible Church—all those who profess the true
religion, together with their children—and the eschatological Church should be
understood as the full number of God’s chosen as they will be seen on the day
statement is clearly backtracking, but such an admission was needed and is
welcome. If indeed these teachers mean what they say, then we should be able to
expect no further teaching that all baptized members are in covenant with God
in the same way “head for head”. If they do not or will not cease to speak this
way, then they are again denying the real distinction between a visible
professing church of baptized persons and the invisible believing church (whose
members ought to be baptized) and who are identified with certainty as true
covenant members only by God rather than a ritual with water. The Bible’s
teaching on the remnant is identical to the doctrine of a remnant in a wider
An Additional Note: This
appendix is about the remnant and how it impacts other questions. I suggested above
concerning The State of Israel that there is Biblical evidence that does
not fit the popular views of many evangelicals about the nation of Israel.
owe some evidence for my statement; thus this additional note. Some who differ
with me on this are my very dear, close friends and some are my relatives. (That
would also be true on the matter of believers’ baptism.) On the views of the
Federal Vision, its advocates have viewed me as a critic and opponent of their
doctrine. In this they have been correct.
In Matthew 4:12-25, Galilee as the location of our Lord’s
ministry is mentioned a number of times. Both the location and the ministry
were a fulfillment of Isaiah 9:1,2. That passage moves
to include the birth and rule of Christ, “… unto us a child is born, to us a son
is given …”. The effect of Jesus’ ministry was a dawning
light for those in darkness (9:2). To this, Isaiah adds two more pictures to illustrate
Messiah’s blessing: joy in harvest and military relief from oppression. The For of v.6 shows that the coming of Christ is the
cause of the dawning light, joy and deliverance. Why the joy? Why the defeat of
their enemies? The answer is, “FOR to us a child is born…” Furthermore, this Son will establish
and uphold His kingdom (9:7) in the face of any opposition. In the middle of
all this, Isaiah added “You have enlarged the nation…” (9:3). If we take the nation
to be the Jewish people in Jesus’ time on earth and in the generations that followed,
we find that that nation was actually greatly reduced, not just dispersed, but
reduced in territory and population. Would not the massacre of every living
soul in Jerusalem
reduce the nation? However, if we take
“the nation” the way Peter does in 1 Peter 2:9, nation can be applied to all believers as God’s nation. If we
insist that the nation must be the Jewish people, then the great problem is
that as a result of rejecting Him, that nation shrank. Isaiah’s prophecy cannot
apply to them, but it fits the spread of the gospel, God was admitting Gentiles
to “citizenship in Israel”,
the household of God, (Ephesians 2:12,19). Jesus built
His church (Matthew 16:18, and in so doing, He “enlarged the nation”.
In Jeremiah 31:38-40 God stated that Jerusalem would be rebuilt and it was,
centuries before the birth of Christ.
God’s then declared, “The city will never again be uprooted or demolished.” The reason is that God’s people in a
new covenant (Jeremiah 31:31-34) will have covenant faithfulness instilled in
them. The Jerusalem
of stones and lumber was demolished in 70 AD. Does this make God’s word in
Jeremiah 31:40 a broken promise? Some say the prophecy refers to a later Jerusalem to be built in a
time still future to us. Then they say that that is the Jerusalem which will never be demolished. That
interpretation will not do. Jeremiah prophesied that the city of his day would be
destroyed, and that city was the one to be rebuilt, and it was. We have no
reason from the text of Jeremiah 31 to doubt that he spoke of any other Jerusalem. The notion that
Jeremiah had in mind a much later Jerusalem is
needed to avoid the conclusion that the Jerusalem
destroyed in 70 AD was no longer the city of the living God. It also avoids
admitting that the church of believers in Christ is now the real Jerusalem never to be
destroyed. This is the fulfillment of Jeremiah 31. Jeremiah’s words can only
apply to the “city of the living God” mentioned in Hebrews 12:22. The new Temple will be built of
living stones (the believers in 1 Peter 2:4-10); the cornerstone is Christ. His
apostles and prophets are its foundation. This new temple is His church. This
is how Ephesians 2:19-22 and 1 Peter 2 understand
Isaiah 28:16. The point here is that Jerusalem
and the Jewish people were being cut off (as in Romans 11) until the
unbelieving descendents of Abraham return to the Lord and are taken in again.
The remnant left Jerusalem
in 70 AD. What they left was no longer the Jerusalem that could claim God’s promise of Jeremiah
31:40 as a continuing city, or any other promise except for forgiveness of sin by
faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.