In Isaiah 29-30, the prophet chided the leaders of the day for not hastening to the Lord’s invitation for deliverance from Assyria. In Isaiah 32-35, Isaiah presented the Lord as the true King of His people. The prophet hoped to convince Judah that while Ahaz had led them to trust in anyone but God, only as they relied upon the Lord would they enjoy righteousness and justice in the land. Isaiah elicited Judah’s trust in the Lord by presenting His plan to send a deliverer to rescue them.
Isaiah prophesied that a messianic figure would come and reign in righteousness (Isa 32:1-8). Isaiah predicted the edifying results of the Messiah’s reign: “Then the eyes of those who see will not be closed, and the ears of those who hear will listen. The reckless mind will gain knowledge, and the stammering tongue will speak clearly and fluently” (Isa 32:3-4). Isaiah portrayed Judah as helpless without the Messiah’s aid (Isa 33:1-16). Isaiah’s words here were prompted by Sennacherib’s initial invasion toward Jerusalem, when Hezekiah gave the Assyrian king all the silver in the Lord’s temple (2 Kgs 18:13-18). In distress, Isaiah cried, “LORD, be gracious to us! We wait for You. Be our strength every morning, and our salvation in time of trouble. The peoples flee at the thunderous noise; the nations scatter when You rise in Your majesty” (Isa 33:2-3). The Lord would indeed rise up and exalt Himself over the Assyrian king. The people dwelling in Jerusalem were thus exhorted to reform their lives in righteousness that they may dwell there and not be destroyed by the Lord, even if they escaped Sennacherib’s advance (Isa 33:14-16). The Messiah would one day rule over a city characterized by peace (Isa 33:17-24).
Isaiah prophesied that the Messiah’s coming would be consistent with judgment on the nations, especially Edom (Isaiah 34). Edom would be set apart as a representative target of God’s wrath “for its hostility against Zion” (Isa 34:8; Genesis 25; Numbers 20). The Spirit of God would gather wild animals in the place where Edomites once appointed their king (Isa 34:8-17). However, the ransomed of the Lord would return to Zion (Isaiah 35). Isaiah prophesied that gladness, joy, splendor, strength, sight, singing, and rain would come upon that which was parched, mute, blind, weak, destroyed, weeping, and mourning—because “God’s retribution is coming; He will save you” (Isa 35:4).
Isaiah’s sermon to the people of Jerusalem—perhaps surrounded by the forces of the Assyrian king Sennacherib—provided the initial setting for multiple messianic prophecies, a springboard for the storyline of Scripture. Many in Jesus’ day, however, misunderstood some of the specifics of Isaiah’s oracles. They questioned if Jesus was in fact the Messiah. While Jesus had accomplished some of the things Isaiah prophesied, Israel was still subject to Roman rule. Would not the Messiah execute judgment on the nations, as well as deliver the blind, mute, and lame? This was the question on the mind of John the Baptist when he was imprisoned by Herod Antipas. The Gentiles in the northern region of Galilee were enjoying the inauguration of the Messiah’s rule—as evidenced by the fact that the blind were made to see, the lame were made to walk, those with skin disease were healed, the deaf were able to hear, the dead were raised, and the poor were told the good news. At this time, the great John the Baptist was held captive by Israel’s enemy, Herod Antipas. “Isn’t the Messiah to come with blessing and vengeance?” he thought.
John’s paradigm, like that of many in his day, was highly influenced by Isaiah’s prophecy: “Say to the faint-hearted: ‘Be strong; do not fear! Here is your God; vengeance is coming. God’s retribution is coming; He will save you.’ Then the eyes of the blind will be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Then the lame will leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute will sing for joy” (Isa 35:4-6a). When John thus sent messengers to Jesus to ask if He was in fact the Messiah (Matt 11:1-3//Luke 7:18-20), Jesus spoke not only of the miraculous blessings that He had bestowed on the needy but also affirmed John’s place in the redemptive-historical plan of God. By emphasizing that John was in fact the forerunner, Jesus affirmed that He was in fact the Messiah.