Jesus Verse by Verse

an expanded commentary on the Gospel of Matthew

Jesus Verse by Verse...

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Digression 1 John and Isaiah 40

Is. 40:1 follows straight on from the disappointing ending to Isaiah chapter 39. Hezekiah could have been the Messianic king, but instead chose to be content with his 15 years of life, his children etc.- and was caught up with petty pride. We could read chapter 40 as an urgent appeal for the people of Judah to make good on what God had potentially enabled. But they didn't. This is why the second part of Isaiah has reference both to Hezekiah's time, and also to the returned exiles- the Messianic Kingdom possibilities for Zion could've been fulfilled then, but again, Israel would not. And so they had the possibility of fulfillment in the first century through the work of John the Baptist. And again it didn't work out. So they will finally come true when Christ returns. This approach explains why parts of the later part of Isaiah are relevant to Hezekiah's time, others to the restoration period; and some parts could apply to both. It could be that Isaiah's work was rewritten under inspiration during the captivity. Some have even discerned a third section to Isaiah, from chapter 56 to chapter 66. This is very critical of the Jews, and the relevance of this section could be that the point is being made that they had wasted so much potential, both at Hezekiah's time and at the restoration. Is. 40:2 Accomplished uses the same Hebrew word as in  2 Chron. 36:21 and Dan. 9:2, where we read that the land of Judah was to "fulfill [s.w.] 70 years" before the restoration. The latter part of Isaiah has clear reference to both the restoration from Babylon as well as the possibilities at the time of the Assyrian defeat in Hezekiah's time. The Kingdom of God could have been established at Hezekiah's time, but both he and Judah preferred to enjoy their short term 15 years of peace rather than have any wider vision of spirituality. The prophecies were therefore given another possibility of fulfillment at the time of the restoration; and that too failed. So they had another sense of fulfillment possible in the work of John the Baptist, the Lord Jesus, Paul and the apostles in the first century;  but that scenario also had limited success, and so they will have their final fulfillment in the return of Christ to earth in the last days.  Is. 40:2 Iniquity is pardoned- is the assurance that Jerusalem's sins at Hezekiah's time (as outlined graphically in Isaiah 1) are forgiven- and on this basis, there is the appeal in :3,4 to repent in practice, to make the rough places smooth etc. - for those verses are understood by John the Baptist as an appeal for repentance. Note how forgiveness was granted, and then there was the appeal to repent. Not the other way around. Repentance therefore is a claiming of a forgiveness for specific sins which has already been potentially granted, especially for those "in Christ".
Is. 40:6 Cry  is the "cry" of Is. 40:2. The references to flesh being as grass and having been blown upon by Yahweh (:7) are figures of judgment for sin (see the use of 'blowing' in :24), not merely a description of human mortality. The message that the grass had been blown upon and withered is therefore the same 'cry' as in :2- that God's people have received the judgment for their sin, judgment is over, the grass has been withered. The message wasn't really accepted in either Hezekiah's time nor at the restoration. And so it was repeated in a different form in the NT, where the Lord Jesus assures us that those in Him shall not experience condemnation (Jn. 5:24; Rom. 8:1). It could be argued that mortality, the fact we are mortal, is therefore good news for us- we have received our condemnation in that we are mortal.