Isaiah Part 3 – The Second Coming of the Messiah

1642again, Going Postal
Russian icon of the Prophet Isaiah, 18th century (iconostasis of Transfiguration Church, Kizhi monastery, Karelia, Russia)

I wasn’t originally going to tackle the thorny subject of Biblical prophecies concerning the Second Coming of the Messiah, a subject that has caused more than a few people to lose their minds.  However, a number of people did ask me to do so following my last article about Isaiah’s prophecies about the First Coming of the Messiah, or the ‘Suffering Servant,’ as he termed this figure, so I will address this request insofar as Isaiah’s writings at least.

The first issue to deal with is which parts of Isaiah are concerned with he Second rather than First Coming, something which isn’t always easy to do because sometimes his language can be ambiguous as to which Coming of the Messiah he is addressing, so I will focus only on those which are explicitly tackling the Second.  Oddly, these ones tend to be concentrated in the early chapters of the Book of Isaiah, not the later ones as one might expect, and we need to remember that the first 60% of Isaiah is regarded by scholars as having been written by Isaiah himself, not by followers writing in his tradition a century later as some scholars believe the later chapters might be.  So the explicit prophecies of the Second Coming are largely the work of Isaiah himself writing early in the 7th century BC.  The contemporary Hebrew prophet Micah, a more minor figure, speaks in very similar language about this coming time and is generally thought to have been influenced by the greater Isaiah.

The Prophecies – Highlights

  • The second chapter of Isaiah is fundamental to these prophecies, starting with a phrase “it shall come to pass in the last days…” This phrase  has a different sense in Hebrew from  English which conveys the sense of End Times whereas the Hebrew implies a new final Age of Mankind in the remote future, a new dispensation, but not necessarily the end of Creation.  Ancient cultures were interested in the idea of different ‘Ages of Mankind’ (the Greeks had those of Gold, Silver, Heroes, Bronze and Iron) in which different natural or divinely appointed orders applied.  Here Isaiah describes a time when Mankind is directly and openly ruled by God in the form of the Messiah reigning on Earth, a theme explored further in the Books of Daniel and Revelations.  Jewish literature commonly regards Humanity as having three Ages – the time before the Hebraic Law, the second under the Hebraic Law, and the final one being under the direct rule of the Messiah.
  • There are repeated references to the Second Coming being subsequent to an event called ‘The Day of the Lord’, a phrase commonly used in ancient Hebrew scripture to refer to violent events that ravage the whole world for a year, ravaging the planet and results in huge numbers of deaths. This event may be clearly identified with the Apocalypse of Revelations.
  • The ‘Branch of Jesse’ will make a new transcendent Jerusalem the capital of the reordered world for eternity. The branch of Jesse, i.e. a descendent of the royal house of David, is clearly Christ – the genealogy of Jesus harking back to David and Jesse is a marked feature of the Gospel nativity accounts – and is again consistent with what is known as the ‘Millennium’ in Revelations.  It will be an Age of universal peace and abundance.
  • All survivors will adhere to the single true faith. People/pilgrims of all nations shall flock to Jerusalem – Isaiah is describing the establishment of a global universal religion based in the revealed truths of Judaism but transcending it, i.e. Christianity.  Given the times in which this prophecy was formulated, the idea of a universal proselytising world religion was quite extraordinary, a truly original idea.
  • Israel will be fully restored to the boundaries stipulated to Moses by God, something that the Israelites had stepped back from in the time of Joshua and the original post Exodus conquest, thereby not keeping their bargain with God, even to this day. The restoration of Israel is one of the key pieces of evidence for the truth of Biblical Millennial prophecy as it has been seen as a clear fulfilment of prophecy in books such as Isaiah, Daniel and Revelations, but it’s clear from this passage of Isaiah that complete fulfilment will only occur after the ‘Day of the Lord’.
  • There will be no illness or malady, and the desert will bloom and water be plentiful. Effectively, we are seeing a reversion to pre-Fall times, a new Eden.  As part of this there will be a remaking of creation at some point – there will be ‘new heavens and a new Earth.’

Now this post apocalypse imagery might seem fairly commonplace to us because it has long been a feature of Christian culture, language, art and things of the imagination, but it was a relatively new and innovative feature of prophetic literature in Isaiah’s day, and it is startling to see such an influential writer as Isaiah looking so far into the future and imagining those times in ways that we still use today.  Isaiah has effectively framed the imagination of the greatest civilisation the world has seen 2,700 years into the future.  Every subsequent prophetic writer and artist is treading in the footsteps pioneered by Isaiah, something I find quite profound.

But from whence does his imagery derive?  Now Christian believers should say it is from God, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, but to me it’s more than just that – this is where we find another of those cross strands in the Bible I mentioned in the previous talk, using the metaphor of a piece of woven cloth.

Isaiah’s language and imagery resembles closely the description of the Garden of Eden before the Fall, for example, Mankind and the animal kingdom living in harmony rather than in the strife of Nature red-in-tooth-and-claw.  It’s so close it’s striking and reappears again in Revelations, albeit not so markedly.  So here we have a theme running from the first verses of the Old Testament to the last ones of the New, of the idyll before the Fall and the restoration of the idyll after the Second Coming and ‘Day of the Lord’, with Isaiah yet again right at the centre of it, in a time when he is warning of the end ofthe kingdom  Judah and terrible times to come, or the inverse of the Edenic idyll, a time of war, genocide, pitiless destruction, exile (another expulsion from the Garden, this time that of the Promised Land of Israel).

Perhaps, in conclusion, another way to see this, from the fuller understanding we have gained of Isaiah and his central position in the whole message of the Bible, is that he is showing the way humanity can get out of the mess into which it fell by disobeying God at the Fall.  He’s pointing the way we will get out in the end through the sacrificial First Coming of Christ or ‘the Suffering Servant’ and then – after the very nadir in humanity’s fortunes in the ‘Day of the Lord’ – by the overwhelming might of the Second Coming, and he is using the Hebrews as a case study, an exemplar, of the wider issue with Mankind, turning our backs on God, staggering from one disaster to another, spurning His attempts to make us see reason out of our foolish pride, going so far as to kill Him, and then, in the end He has to intervene in power when we are threatening to destroy everything in our madness.  Isaiah in a way encapsulates the whole of the problem within Mankind, and between God and every man and woman.
 

© 1642again 2018
 

Audio file