In the latter portions of the book of Isaiah, the prophet described the Lord’s saving acts for His people and the nations. In Isaiah 56-59, the prophet returned to themes that characterized his earlier oracles against the sins of Judah in chs. 1, 9, and 22. Here the prophet confronted Judah’s unfaithfulness but also set forth again the faithfulness of the Lord. The themes of condemnation and forgiveness presented in Isaiah 56-59 cast a long shadow, echoing through the storyline of Scripture. Isaiah prophesied that:
(1) The Lord would judge His people and the nations based upon their deeds. Isaiah stated that while the Lord was mighty and willing to save His people, Judah failed to humble herself and receive His salvation. Isaiah said, “Their feet run after evil, and they rush to shed innocent blood. Their thoughts are sinful thoughts; ruin and wretchedness are in their paths. They have not known the path of peace, and there is no justice in their ways” (Isa 59:7-8a). Paul saw the same in his day, concerning both Jews and Gentiles outside of Christ (Rom 3:15-17). While Isaiah exalted the role of the Sabbath and fasting, the people of his day only went through the motions, prompting the Lord’s rebuke: “Isn’t the fast I choose: To break the chains of wickedness…Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, to bring the poor and homeless into your house, to clothe the naked when you see him” (Isa 58:7). Jesus elevated these social demands further still, setting them out as the criterion by which nations would be evaluated at the final judgement (Matt 25:35-36). Isaiah announced the righteous judgment of the Lord in Isa 59:18, saying, “Thus He will repay according to their deeds: fury to His enemies, retribution to His foes, and He will repay the coastlands.” John understood Isaiah’s prophecy to be fulfilled at the return of Christ, whom He heard say, “Look! I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me to repay each person according to what he has done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End” (Rev 22:12-13).
(2) The Lord would make known to all peoples His covenant of forgiveness. Perhaps more than any other Old Testament book, Isaiah proclaimed God’s intention to bring the nations into the covenant He had made with Israel. In Isaiah 56, the prophet announced that the Lord would deal equitably with His people and the nations. Concerning the nations, the Lord said, “I will bring them to My holy mountain and let them rejoice in My house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be acceptable on My altar, for My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations” (Isa 56:7). When Jesus arrived in Jerusalem one week before His crucifixion, He entered the temple complex and confronted the Jewish leadership for allowing the court of the Gentiles—the sacred space Isaiah described as a place where Gentiles could pray—to become a den of thieves (Matt 21:13//Mark 11:17//Luke 19:46). The Jewish leadership had disregarded Isaiah’s message that Gentiles should have access to God and enjoy forgiveness of sin. Isaiah prophesied of the Lord’s covenant faithfulness to Israel, saying, “The Redeemer will come to Zion, and to those in Jacob who turn from transgression” (Isa 59:20). Paul argued that Jesus was the Redeemer about whom Isaiah prophesied (Rom 11:25-27). Since the Lord has sent Jesus to redeem Israel—and yet so few from Israel were believing in Paul’s day—Paul concluded that the Lord had hardened Israel for a time so that the full number of Gentiles would be engrafted into God’s people. Paul’s use of Isa 59:20 in Rom 11:26-27 had ethical implications. The Gentiles had no right to boast over their Jewish brothers. Salvation is of the Lord, Paul argued.