God has answered Isaiah that things are going to be radically different when Christ comes. The people need the Savior and when he arrives it will be a whole new order and system, like it were a new heavens and new earth. God continues to give his answer about this new covenant system and how radically different it will be for God will have people who will love and worship him.
New Covenant Heart (66:1-2)
When Christ comes things will be so radically changed that his people will recognize the immensity of God. In this new covenant, people are not going to think of the physical temple as the dwelling place of God. Solomon had said this at the temple’s dedication (1 Kings 8:27). God’s throne is not in Jerusalem. God’s throne is not in the Holy of Holies inside the temple. Think about the immensity and majesty of God! Heaven is God’s throne. Earth is where God rests his feet. God rules over all and cannot be localized or contained. What house will be built for the Lord? Things will be so different in this new covenant that people will not go to a physical location to find God. God’s throne is in heaven, not in Jerusalem. Stephen quotes this passage from Isaiah when he preached to the Sanhedrin. He ends his sermon on this quotation (Acts 7:49-50). Stephen was arrested because he “never ceases to speak words against this holy place and the law, for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and will change the customs that Moses delivered to us” (Acts 7:13-14). Isaiah predicted the end of the temple and its worship. This is what Isaiah is saying and this is how Stephen is using this text. This is the new heavens and new earth when Christ comes. This is part of the new creation. The temple is not your hope. The new covenant will make all things new and the former things and ways and worship will be forgotten.
If temple worship would be set aside when Christ comes and establishes his covenant, what is the new worship going to look like? God explains this is verse 2. “But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word.” It is not people who come to the temple. It is people who come to the throne of God who lives in heaven with humility. God will look with favor on those who come with a contrite spirit. God will accept people who tremble at his word. God wants people who sense their inability in spiritual matters. Isaiah declared this earlier in Isaiah 57:15. God also wants people long to obey. They want to hear the word of the Lord and submit to his authority. God’s people are people who are deeply concerned about the ways of God. What a disaster if we do not want to hear and tremble before God’s word! The people who find the favor and grace of God do not perfectly keep God’s word, but they tremble before it. They long to obey it. They are deeply concerned about God’s word and yield their will to God’s revelation.
The Heart of False Worshipers (66:3-6)
God returns to examining the sinful hearts of the people. The problem can be boiled down to the simple statement in verse 3: “These have chosen their own ways.” The people delight in sin rather than delighting in God. Remember that in Isaiah 55 we read that those who come to the Lord must forsake their ways and forsake their thoughts (55:7). God’s ways are better and his thoughts are higher. False worshippers choose to do what God does not delight in (66:4). When God calls through his word, they do not listen. Therefore God will judge them for their sins.
Listen to the encouragement God gives his true worshippers. God tells those who do tremble at his word to listen to what he has to say. Your brothers will hate you for trembling at his word. You will endure sarcasm, mockery, and shame because you love the scriptures. We may think that our suffering will come from outsiders and unbelievers. But notice that this shame comes from those who claim to be followers of God. Verse 5 says that they are going to mock your love for God. These people fit what we see in Isaiah 28 who mock because you care about line upon line and precept upon precept. But the Lord will bring recompense on them for God knows they are his enemies (66:6).
God Has The Power and Will Keep His Promises (66:7-17)
God now speaks of human impossibility. Listen to the image of verse 7. “Before she was in labor she gave birth. Before her pain came upon her she delivered a son.” As God asks in verse 8, “Who has heard such a thing?” This does not happen! But the land and the nation will be brought forth in a moment (66:8). There will be the suddenness of many children. The Lord will instantly bring about his nation, fulfilling his covenant promises. God has maintain his covenant promises thus far and he will bring them to completion (66:9). This is a prophecy fulfilled in the book of Acts. When Christ comes, dies, raises from the dead, and ascends, the gospel message is proclaimed. In an instant 3000 souls now belong to the Lord (Acts 2). As we move through the book of Acts we are reading about multitudes coming to the Lord. This is divine certainty. God has pledged it and it will happen. God’s people will be blessed. Those who belong to him will receive his blessings and inherit the promises (66:10-14). Only God could do this.
Just as their is divine certainty about God’s salvation to those who are contrite in heart and tremble at his word, there is also divine certainty concerning God’s enemies. Verses 15-17 describe the Lord coming in fire to render his anger in fury. Fire always equals judgment. Fire is never a positive, joyful experience but a time of testing, refining, or judgment. God speaks of judgment that is coming. This message was proclaimed immediately by John the Baptizer that there would be the baptism of the Holy Spirit for those who repent and the baptism of fire who do not (Matthew 3:11-12). These who do not tremble at God’s word and choose what God delights in will be brought to an end.
Gather The Nations (66:18-24)
Verse 18 reminds us that we are not looking at eternity, but the new order that will be created when Christ comes. The time was coming with the nations would be gathered and they would see the Lord. God’s glory will be declared among the nations (66:19). The book of Acts continues to record the growth of God’s kingdom. By the time we get to Acts 10 we now see the nations become part of God’s people. Then we read about Paul, Silas, Timothy, Barnabas, and more going to the nations preaching the glory of the Lord. This is what Jesus declared to his apostles after his resurrection in Acts 1:8. The apostles would be witnesses of the Lord to the ends of the earth. But verse 21 says something amazing. As God brings in the nations as an offering to the Lord, some of them will be taken by the Lord for priests and Levites. We are reading about the total elimination of a distinction between Israelites and non-Israelites. God will have priests and Levites from all the people that will come in. Now think about how amazing and befuddling this thought would be to the people of Israel. Not even the people of Israel could be priests. Only people from the tribe of Levi could minister to the Lord and priests came only from the sons of Kohath. Now anyone from any tribe, and even people who were not even Israelites, could be priests for the Lord! How is this possible? Listen to God’s explanation in verse 22.
“For as the new heavens and the new earth that I make shall remain before me, says the Lord, so shall you offspring and your name remain.” God’s answer is the new heavens and the new earth. Obviously, God is not speaking about eternity at the end time. God is saying that Gentiles will have equal access and equal privileges before the Lord, even to be priests for God. How can this be? The new heavens and new earth image means that there is going to be radical change. The former things will be forgotten and God is going to recreate so that there is a new creation. There will be a new order, new system, and new way of living when Christ comes. When Christ comes anyone will be able to be chosen as priest for the Lord.
We are living in this glorious time that Isaiah predicted as God is renewing and restoring all things to him. Thus, the opportunities that we are reading about in this prophecy is available to us. All flesh shall come to worship before me (66:23). Again we see equal access to the Lord. All people will come to him. No one is excluded. No one has to be left out. Notice the length of the worship that will happen. “From new moon to new moon, and from Sabbath to Sabbath.” Worship will not stop. God’s people will tremble at his word and they will never want to stop worshiping him. They will not look at their watches and hope for other things to do. They want to serve the Lord. They want to pray to the Lord. They want to read his word. They want to worship the Lord. They want to gather to praise the Lord. We see a true change of heart, people who humbling love everything about God and desire all that he is and all that he offers.
But there are eternal consequences for those who rebel against the Lord (66:24). Those who do not have a contrite heart, tremble at the word of the Lord, come to worship him, or choose what God delights in will experience eternity severed from the Lord in punishment. This image is used by Jesus himself when he describes eternal punishment.
“Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea. And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, ‘where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.'” (Mark 9:42–48 ESV)
Jesus quotes the last sentence of Isaiah. Jesus has come and brings with him salvation from this eternal judgment. God has changed everything through Jesus. We can enjoy an eternal salvation that will not be forfeited for those who tremble at his word and humble themselves before him. We do not have to receive this judgment but are enabled to worship the Lord day and night as his priests. God has done what is impossible for humans to accomplish. At the coming of Christ everything changed so that we can be in the presence of the Lord. We can receive his blessings. We can enjoy fellowship in his presence. Do you want to enjoy these rich blessings? Submit your life to the will and word of God today.