For Isaiah the end would begin to arrive with the return from Babylon. That event was so significant for him because it was ripe with promise, like a woman large with child. The end would emerge from it like a birth. And when it came, it would come suddenly, like a premature baby bursting unexpectedly from the womb and announcing its arrival with loud cries. All that the faithful had longed for would be realized in one climatic moment (vv. 7-11). But for all the certainty and suddenness of its arrival, the end would not come easily. The pregnancy would be a difficult one.
Ecclesiasticism (vv.1-6): Ecclesiasticism is defined as especially excessive devotion to the practices of the church. Here in these verses we hear God’s call to rebuild the temple. However at the same time Isaiah was painfully aware of the capacity of human beings to misuse it; to focus on the temple itself instead of the God of the temple, to corrupt it with perfunctory and impure worship. Isaiah understood very well that physical restoration was not enough. Unless there was spiritual renewal the future would simply repeat the sins of the past. Isaiah was not against the temple, but against ecclesiasticism, that ugly distortion of true religion which inevitably reasserts itself where there is no recognition of the greatness of God or heartfelt contrition before Him (vv. 1-2). Where this is lacking, worship, in whatever building, becomes no better than pagan superstition, angering God and calling forth His righteous judgment (vv. 3-4). Ecclesiasticism bears even more bitter fruit than this. It breeds partisanship and power struggles, theological hatred and religious persecution. It turns brother against brother (v. 5). Isaiah saw that Jerusalem and its temple would be the scene of God’s final judgment on apostate Israel. It would begin when the Lord came personally to His temple and made war on His people who had become His enemies by rejecting His Word (v. 6).
Judgment would begin at the house of God. Jesus’ preaching, for the most part, was an urgent, eleventh-hour appeal to Israel to repent, and His cleansing of the temple a dramatic sign that the threatened judgment was beginning to take place. Sadly, however, even this did not elicit repentance, but bitter hatred and opposition. Israel’s response to God’s final warning was to kill the One who brought it, and the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple followed as a matter of course. But this brings us to the mystery which lies at the very heart of this chapter. What seems an end is also a beginning. The death-throes of Israel as it existed under the Old Covenant turn out to be the birth-pangs of the New Age. Mourning is suddenly turned into joy.
Zion’s newborn children (vv. 7-11): In Isaiah’s day Zion under judgment had given birth to a faithful remnant. The joyful news he now proclaims is that in the hour of her final judgment she will give birth again. Everything in this passage stresses the suddenness and miraculous nature of the event. This birth is, so to speak, already accomplished before she goes into labor (v. 7). And it is not the normal one or two who are born, but a whole new people of God (v. 8). It is so sudden and startling that it can only be a work of God Himself (v. 9).
There is profound prophetic insight here, for in the fullness of time the new age came to birth just as Isaiah predicted. Out of the Israel of the old covenant, judged and rejected by God, emerged the Church of Jesus Christ. It was already “born”, as it were, before Jerusalem’s destruction; that was simply the severing of the umbilical cord. Zion had given birth to a movement that could not be contained within ethnic, territorial, or political boundaries. It would spread to the ends of the earth, but always owe a debt to the mother who gave it birth. Zion’s children would always remember that they had been suckled at her breasts, and be thankful (vv. 10-11).
Isaiah 66:1-24 Reflection Questions:
Where in the gospel of Matthew does Jesus cleanse the temple?
How easy is it to focus on ceremony, building, church politics, etc. and lose focus on God?
Are you part of the “new people of God”; been born again? If so, how are you giving praise and thanks to God who adopted you into His family?
If you have not been born again, decide now to be part of God’s family. Get with a pastor to walk you through the best decision you can ever make in your life!