RPM, Volume 20, Number 37, September 9 to September 15, 2018

Notes on Isaiah 2–4

By David Linden

These three chapters comprise the only unit in Isaiah with its own introduction (v.1). They begin and end with faithful people on Mount Zion: Gentiles in 2:2-4 and the remnant of Israel in 4:2-6. Between the two we find a detailed description of sin in Jerusalem. The intended contrast is of the glorious future and the appalling present. Isaiah speaks of religious (2:6-21) and social deviation (3:1-4:1), each prefaced with an exhortation. This Scripture gives two bright but short predictions of future salvation with a long review of its opposite in between. God's announced judgments are specifically connected to His peoples' sin. Both the religious and the social corruption result in intense and humiliating suffering for the wayward rebels of Judah and Jerusalem. The prediction of a worldwide coming to the Lord (2:2-4) speaks first to the worship of the Lord by man and then to the (resulting) peace that man has with his fellow man. It could be described as no more idolatry and no more war. Such blessing will come only by God's intervention as the Holy Spirit Who is the Spirit of judgment and the Spirit of fire removes sin and cleanses from it (4:4). Only then will life in fellowship with our Holy Lord be paradise produced and restored on earth.

2:1-5 – Isaiah said Zion would be redeemed (1:27). In light of its great sinfulness, its redemption is a wonder that only God can accomplish. Chapter 2 now surprises us with the news that salvation shall be so widespread, and so complete that nations will stream to the Lord's temple. Nothing in chapter one even hinted that salvation would include Gentiles. It is a wonderful surprise. As is so often the case in Isaiah, this theme will return again and again. In 11:9 we have an equally strong prediction of a salvation so extensive it covers the entire earth.

Nations streaming to Jerusalem is significant because Jerusalem is where God had put His Name (Deuteronomy 12:11; Psalm 46:4,5). The Lord was present there in His temple. Streaming to it is suggestive of coming in worship. They are not going to their own mountains, mountains being the typical location of various gods. For God's mountain to be exalted as chief over all others shows He is the God of gods and the Lord of lords (Deuteronomy 10:17; Revelation 17:14) These Gentiles leave their gods to go to the God of Israel. They do not come as tourists to visit; they come to receive and obey the law of the Lord. Their desire is to do the will of God. They stream uphill, up Mount Zion by God's supernatural pull, drawing them to come to Him.

We are against the law as a means of justification, but joyfully embrace the law as it shows us what true holiness is. Reformed theology recognizes three uses of the law:

— To define righteousness, and thus condemn sin as sin.

— To show the sinner his helpless condition, and thus his need of Christ.

— To be the rule of a life pleasing to God, essential for fellowship with Him.

What we have in 2:1-5 is shocking – obedient Gentiles! This is unheard of! Israel departed from the law of God by following the nations in idolatry and immorality. Now it is announced that the nations will follow the Lord God of Israel, the same Lord Israel was not following. Two pathetic facts describe much of history: 1) Israel, the only people on earth that had the true God, did not remain true to Him, 2) while the nations with false gods were dedicated to their false gods. In Isaiah 2 we see the second situation radically changed. In Romans 11:11-32 we learn of Gentiles "coming in" and with Israelites returning later. That Gentiles would believe in the God of Israel was something Paul hoped would stir jealousy among his Jewish brothers (Romans 11:14) provoking them to return. Other prophets tell us Israel will someday repent as in Hosea 3:4,5 where Hosea speaks of Israel returning in contrition. Isaiah will have much to add to that later; right now the news is the salvation of Gentiles.

They come in sincerity. They encourage each other (v.3); they want to learn God's will, whatever it is, so that they can do it (v.3). This is not a nominal confession of the Lord; it is fervent wholehearted obedience. As the Lord issues His word and decisions for their lives, they learn and obey. Unlike Israel, still noted for murder and bloodshed (1:15,21), the heathen will get rid of their weapons for killing their neighbors and turn them into tools for farming. The salvation of the nations is no empty profession; their faith will be revealed in transformed conduct.

So how does the prophet appeal to his own people with these facts? He calls on them to walk in the light of the Lord (v.5), because they are supposed to know Him, and he urges them to live the way their pagan neighbors some day will. The nations will stream to the Lord. Israel, God's covenant people, have turned their backs on the Lord (1:4). May Israel be shamed by the future devotion of the heathen. The message is pointed: Let us walk now the way they shall.

When will this be?

We are simply told it will be in the last days. When the Bible is vague, we should be vague. When the Bible is specific, we should be as well. Here it is vague. Sometimes it will say, "in that day". When it does, we search for a context. Sometimes it simply means, "in that future time I am speaking about". God has rarely revealed a specific time in predicted events (Acts 1:7). So the best way to read Isaiah 2:1-5, is to meditate on what it does say and to leave to other passages to supply more. Some day the Gentile saints are going to come marching in! (I say it has already begun!)

2:6-22 Next Isaiah switched to Israelites devoted to the practices of the heathen (vv. 6 & 8). We just saw that the heathen would one day be devoted to the Lord of Israel. Yet poor Judah was still caught up in what the nations would one day abandon. The jarring contrast appears in the verses that follow 2:1-5.

God is not passive; He does react to sin. Sometimes Scripture pictures that sinners will be punished with fire, or made to experience God's wrath or pain at His hand. Isaiah shows another side of the judgment of God. Man will be humbled while God will be exalted. This is the background of all of vv. 9-22. When it says 'man' in v. 22, remember in this context it is man in contrast with God – man unable to resist God, man who lacks the life God has. Man has but a breath in his nostrils. Man brought low is contrasted with God exalted high, splendid in His majesty. God gained glory by destroying the army of Egypt in Exodus 14:17,18.

Some features of this passage:

1) Judah and Jerusalem had spurned God; now He has in some sense abandoned them (v.6). There is no threat of judgment in the Bible that does not actually occur to some disobedient soul. This is not an idle word that is later reversed for everybody. God has never made an idle threat.

2) We read of a certain day without being told when that day will be (vv.11,12,17,20). What we need to know is that God has such a day in mind; its time is known to Him.

3) Hiding in rocks (v.10 & 19) is the picture of morbid fear. This same hiding in rocks and caves is found in Revelation 6:15-17. There we read that the time had come, the great day of God's wrath.

4) The imagery of the proud, high and lofty being "brought low" (v.9) is used figuratively as if God were going to slice the tops off ships, mountains, and trees (vv. 12-17). Isaiah speaks in a number of places of the pride of man and his vaunted wisdom. (A classic statement is Isaiah 29:14, quoted in 1 Corinthians 1:19.) We are influenced by great men. They may have great power over us. If they counsel against the word of God, they will be humbled. God will defend His glory and not allow what is His alone to be held by any competitor.

5) This humbling exposes the falseness of idols (v.20). Once men cherished and worshipped them and the spirit powers the idols represented. When shown to be unable to help, men will throw them away in disgust even if made of gold. Only the Lord will be exalted in that day (v.17).

6) Shaking the earth is one more image of God's judgment, used also in Hebrews 12:26-29, quoting Haggai 2:6,7.

7) Faith is believing the truth of a promise, but the same act is one of trusting the promise maker. What we believe is important, but it cannot be separated from the one we trust. Isaiah's "stop trusting in man" (v.22), fits his message to trust in the Lord. The first major section of the Book of Isaiah ends with Isaiah 12. There the believer sings this psalm, "Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid." Everything we read in 2:6-22 is the opposite of those words.

Summary: Isaiah 2:6-22

gives a brief review of idolatry (3 vv), and a long presentation of the final judgment of God (14 vv). Chapter 3 gives prophesies of the more immediate judgment of God, speaking of what was happening then or about to, as in 1:5-9.

Judgment current and ultimate

The final judgment is at the coming of Christ. The dead will be made to stand before God. Meanwhile, God's wrath remains on the unbeliever (John 3:36). The believer in the Lord Jesus is not under condemnation, nor the wrath or curse of God (Romans 8:1; Galatians 3:13). Instead we face fatherly chastening for sin, His discipline for our growth in grace, which only shows that He has not rejected us but treats us as His children (Hebrews 12:4-14).

3:1–4:1 – Much of chapter 3 details the privation and chaos in the infrastructure of the nation. Things are falling apart. Notable will be their lack of men as leaders, resulting in pathetic solutions such as being governed by children, and seven women all begging to marry the same man. Particular attention is devoted to the pride and indulgence of haughty women, resulting in their pitiful humiliation (3:16-4:1).

3:1-8 – "Jerusalem staggers," and v.8 says why. Their words and deeds are both against the Lord. That would describe any and every action of disagreement with His Word. Sin is not merely transgression of a commandment; it is defiance of the Lord God who has spoken. But there is one more element that can only be true of a place like Jerusalem. They defied His presence – something one could not do unless the presence of the Lord was among them so that it could be defied! This is the level of their sin; they rejected the holy Lord Who committed Himself to them and condescended to be among them; they defied His glorious presence. He said in 42:8 "I am the LORD; that is my name! I will not give my glory to another or my praise to idols." God is a defender of His glory.

Inside the temple was a chest or box containing the Ten Commandments, the covenantal commitment God had made with Israel and Israel with God. In Exodus 19:7,8 before receiving the Ten Commandments, they promised to obey. The Lord still lived in that temple, so the sin of Jerusalem was to His face, and in a special sense was done against His glorious presence. Years later the Lord would show that He was leaving that temple (Ezekiel 10) but in the days of Isaiah He was still among them. That He remained so long is testimony to His patience and seriousness about the covenant He had made with them. They were not faithful, but He was and is.

3:13-15 – A Day in Court

We simply are not reading the Bible if we fail to see that God is Judge. The Judgment Day is essential to His exercise of holiness and justice, which includes both punishment for sin and positive reward for obedience. Isaiah opens with a complaint against His people, an indictment with a judicial tone. Here He judges His people (v.14) specifically for their treatment of the poor. In chapter one His opening complaint had to do with their rejection of Him. Here in chapter 3, his accusation relates to treatment of their neighbors. The leaders of the Lord's people were crushing God's people. (The court scene will reappear in Isaiah 43:9.26.)

3:16-4:1 – A special note on the women

This judicial charge comes immediately after words of the poor being abused. It is fair when the material is arranged this way – and this arrangement is always deliberate – to think the rich women are rich because they had the plunder of the poor in their houses. My count shows 23 items the women have, especially things to wear or attach to their beautiful bodies. They think they are gorgeous, but in God's judgment they will end up with sores and baldness, with stench rather than the aroma of perfume. They go from strutting (v.16) to mourning; from decadent wealth to destitution. Stealing from the poor led to God stripping them of all they had. The passage begins with pride and ends in disgrace, a typical scenario in all of life. Most of this section is poetry, but the list of jewelry and fashion items in vv. 18-23 is prose.

4:2-6 – This section of Isaiah ends with this brief paragraph, which parallels the glorious future in 2:2-4. It includes an unusual presentation of Christ, Who is the glory of the believing remnant. For them there is a saving transformation. Some women, whose only beauty was outward adornment, will be cleansed and turned into holy women. This purging is to be done by the Holy Spirit. All this adds up to genuine salvation that comes from a union with Christ. (Because the theme of the remnant is back, a major appendix is added to this lesson, Appendix A, The Impact of Remnant Doctrine on Current Controversies.)

Familiar symbols of God's glory over the wilderness tabernacle express the Presence of God. The canopy of v.5 is a marriage canopy. Finally Israel will be joined to the Lord with full access to Him. The Old Testament also looks forward to the Marriage Supper of the Lamb. No threat can ever affect God's people again, with no more sin and no need for judgment. Christ is our shelter and refuge. In 2:2-4 the nations come to the Lord they never knew. In 4:2-6, Israel comes to the Lord she never fully obeyed.

4:2 – The Real Beauty Coming

So much for the beauty that was ugly. Now we have a gem of genuine beauty. In that day the Branch of the LORD will be beautiful and glorious. This beauty is a contrast to the women of chapter 3 whose beauty was external, in jewelry, clothes, and cosmetics, but not in character. Chapters 2 and 3 give a picture of shameful idolatry and the loss of leaders. The dreadful judgment of God was deserved (2:9-21). There was nothing to be proud of as the nation disintegrated. It spoke and acted against the glorious presence of God among His people in Jerusalem; they paraded their sin (3:9). Arrogance needed to be brought low (2:17). The glory of God had been defied (3:8). A new delight would replace the former pride. In 4:2, four nouns describe what is coming: adornment, glory, pride, and beauty.

What is the prophet predicting? It is either a wonderful fruitfulness in the sense of agriculture, or there is a fruitfulness in the Person Who as the Branch of the LORD is from the LORD. Yet this Person is so human that He comes from the land. The language here is of such absolute glory it is hardly fitting to vegetation.

Why should we interpret this text as speaking of Christ?

— Christ is called the Branch in 11:1, Jeremiah 23:5 & 33:15, Zechariah 3:8 & 6:12. These five texts are Messianic. We have good reason to read 4:2 the same way.

— "Branch" may refer to a family tree. Trees do have branches. To identify one's family tree is to say where a person comes from. This Branch "of the LORD" in 4:2 is in the family tree of God. It is another way to speak of the Messiah as God. This does not imply that a tree preceded a branch. Christ is an eternal person. It does indicate source and origin. He is the LORD from the LORD.

— This Branch is the fruit of the land. Just as man comes from the earth, the Lord from heaven (amazingly) would be "a root out of dry ground" (53:2). The name Adam is from the Hebrew word for the ground or earth. The "Lord of glory" (1 Corinthians 2:8) took on human flesh like ours. The text presents a divine origin/connection/life (which is the full nature of God) and an earthly existence. Here are the two natures of Christ. But this is not unusual in Isaiah; the human son of the virgin woman will be "God with us" (7:14).

— As mentioned above, the descriptions of beauty and glory are absolute. They fit Christ not crops. A branch has fruit and the ground produces fruit, but this fruit is also what has come to us from the LORD. This fits His being the One sent, so often asserted in the Gospel of John. Christ did not appear from nowhere, either as to His human nature or as the Son of His Father.

— He is the pride and glory of the believing remnant! A farmer can be justly proud of his "glorious" (!) tomatoes or delicious cherries, but that is using glory is a relative sense. We glory in Christ as One worthy of all praise and adoration. We give full credit to Christ for any and all attractiveness that has come to us in Him, as we "are being transformed into His likeness with ever increasing glory…" (2 Corinthians 3:18). The sinful beauty paraded about in chapter 3, contrasts with real beauty in chapter 4.

— We should be careful about forcing theological truth from one passage into another one, when two passages may not have the same thing in mind. Note that the cleansing in 4:2-6 is by the Holy Spirit. It is in terms of fruitfulness in Christ, and then will speak of our marriage union with Him in 4:5. Thus we ought to consider Christ as the fruit of both God and the land. He has become our pride and glory, as the result of our union with Christ. Romans 6 makes union with Christ the basis of all holiness to be found in us. Thus chapters 2 and 3 show the rotten fruit of life severed from God, and chapter 4 shows the genuineness of life flowing from Christ (John 15:1-8).

Thus 4:2-4 asserts the glory of Christ as native to Christ, and because of our union with Him the fruit of His Spirit (not native to any sinner) is now being produced in us (Galatians 5:22,23). When this production is complete, we shall be in His likeness (Philippians 3:21; Romans 8:29; 1 John 3:2). "Everyone who has the hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure" (1 John 3:3). This understanding of union with Christ in 4:2 is supported by the marriage union canopy over Mount Zion. The Lord and His people will be united. The greatest remedy against sinful pride is unbounded pride in Christ. Glorying in Christ leaves no room for another kind. The Branch of the Lord will be the pride of the survivors in Israel.

4:3,4 – The survivors are made holy, 1 and are recorded or registered in God's book as His. (See Malachi 3:16-18.) It does not say who wrote our names in, but I suggest that only God writes in His book. Being officially recorded has to do with our status. God's justifying act is a change of status. We must remember that everyone justified is also being sanctified (a change in life) by a work of God. Christ is both our righteousness and our holiness (1 Corinthians 1:30).

The sin of women was prominent in chapter 3; here we have the opposite as the women of Zion are cleansed. Filth in Hebrew is vomit. Chapter 3 focuses on her outward vanity, but a cleansing of 'filth" within indicates an inner transformation. "Spirit" in this text cannot be an impersonal force such as wind. Much attention is given in Isaiah to the Spirit, especially in Messianic passages (11:1,2 & 61:1). Surely the cleansing is by the Spirit (with a capital "S"), as Christ baptizes with the Holy Spirit and fire (Matthew 3:11). A Spirit of judgment and fire indicates the Spirit's aggressive opposition to sin. The Holy Spirit carries on relentless warfare against sin within His people (Galatians 5:17).

The ultimate judgment by fire was endured by Christ when He gave Himself as a sacrifice to turn away the wrath of God from us, when He took it on Himself (Romans 3:25; Luke 12:49,50, 1 John 4:10). Judgment must fall on the sinner who committed it, or on the Substitute God has provided.

4:5,6 – In a new creation, the registered citizens 2 of Mount Zion are all assembled in the Presence of the Lord. This is the opposite of those worship assemblies so repugnant to God in 1:13. As the cloud and fire of Exodus 13:21,22 showed God's protective Presence, that Presence shall be the delight of the remnant. It was the glory of God manifested on earth. Later, humans could see the glory of God in God the Son (John 1:14). Now the marriage celebration has come for the cleansed bride (Revelation 19:7,8). The shame of seven women seeking one man is over (4:1). The setting of this marriage is under the glory of the Lord. And our Lord, who endured the blast of divine judgment for our sins on the cross, has become a shade for His own from that same divine heat, and our refuge from the storm. In Exodus 40:34-38 when the glory of God appeared over the tabernacle, Moses could not enter the Tent of Meeting. Here in Isaiah 4, the bride is brought into her canopy, into the Lord's Presence. Canopy always depicts a "marriage chamber" (Joel 2:16; Psalm 19:5). Before Christ secured our entry into the Most Holy Place by His blood (Hebrews 10:19-22) access had been denied. When the cleansing of the bride is complete at the Second Coming, the open canopy replaces the restrictive Tabernacle with its obstructing fence and forbidding veils. (For Christ as our refuge (32:1,2; 25:4), see Appendix A below.)

Isaiah 2-4 begins with the salvation of the heathen nations and ends with the salvation of those who are left in Jerusalem. One day the believing remnant will comprise the entire nation, and all nations will join this remnant (14:1). Then the remaining population of the earth shall truly be a holy people and a united people.

Appendix A: The Impact of Remnant Doctrine on Current Controversies

A Vital Distinction

Isaiah speaks of survivors in 1:9. 3 Then in chapter 4 the Branch of the Lord is "the pride and glory of the survivors in Israel". Additional synonyms for survivors appear as "those who are left in Zion, who remain in Jerusalem" (4:3). In 10:20-22 and 37:31,32 the word remnant is used with the identical meaning. (See also Zephaniah 2:9). Remnant has become the term of choice for this Biblical subject. Its use in 10:20-22 is so emphatic that we must conclude that the Lord has decided to make this matter very plain. It says that a remnant will survive and only a remnant will return. The Apostle Paul quoted both 1:9 and 10:22,23 in Romans 9:27-29. The apostle taught that of the totality of Israel, only some were true Israel (Romans 9:6). To the apostle, understanding the remnant is essential to understanding the Old Testament, and the continued rejection of the Lord by Israel in New Testament times. The concept of remnant was one of Paul's chief explanations of Jewish acceptance and rejection of the gospel. His argument went something like this: "This current rejection by my people is exactly the way it has always been; only some believe, and many still reject!"

A Spiritual Dimension

The remnant theme is not a mere matter of people physically surviving a judgment. Scripture highlights salvation when it speaks of these survivors as cleansed by the work of God's Spirit (4:4). They are called holy. As those with eternal life, they are recorded among the living (4:3). Where else could such a record be but in the Book of Life? (See Revelation 20:12.) The opposite of being taken away in judgment is to survive, to remain, and to be there among the living in Zion. In Zion the Lord's people find refuge (14:32) in the Lord Who is their refuge/shelter/shade (25:1-5). In 32:1,2, Christ is predicted as this refuge. The remnant took shelter in Him. Those who rejected Christ as their shelter were left with a desolate house (Matthew 23:37).

Claimed vs. Cleansed

The remnant is God's holy people (4:3), but "holy people" or "My people" may also refer to the entire nation, whether they believed or not. Many times the entire nation was called God's people. They were holy in the sense that they were the Lord's by covenant, whether they kept covenant with Him or not. A person cannot break a covenant without being in it. (If there are two married men one faithful to his wife and one not, both can be said to be married but only one can be said to being truly married.) The personal salvation of each person in the remnant is asserted in that they were washed and cleansed (4:4). This is what distinguishes the remnant from the rest who were in a covenant relationship yet had forsaken the Lord (1:4). This washing is not ritual but reality. Salvation is not an external act of God on our skin; it is the cleansing of the conscience (Hebrews 9:14). The washing in Isaiah 4 is not with water, but by God's Spirit of judgment and fire as in Matthew 3:11. Ritual does not create this spiritual life. Instead, "…we were all baptized by [Christ with] one Spirit into one body – whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free – and we were all given [by Christ] the one Spirit to drink" (1 Corinthians 12:13). So the remnant is not a claimed people who may or may not respond in faith and obedience; they are a cleansed people. This is the language of transformation.

The Response of Faith

In Isaiah 10 another element is explicit when the remnant's response is in view. Before this, when we read of the remnant receiving salvation, the focus was on what the Lord does to change them. 10:20-22 speaks of their faith. They will truly rely on the Lord (NIV), or it may be rendered that they "will lean on the LORD, the Holy One of Israel, in truth" (ESV). Their return is to the Mighty God (the same title used for Christ in 9:6). Only the remnant will return, and it is Christ to Whom they return. He is the object of their faith. This is the language of conversion.

A Distinction in the New Testament Also

When Paul proclaimed in Romans 10:12 that all who call on the Name of the Lord shall be saved, he still had in mind the remnant theme stated earlier in Romans 9. He quoted part of Joel 2:32, which says, "And everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved; for on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there will be deliverance, as the LORD has said, among the survivors whom the LORD calls. " The remnant are those whom God has called, and thus those who call on the Lord in faith. These are individuals saved by faith, who then bear good fruit (37:31). Whenever a prophet indicated that there will be no survivors in any people group, he was saying by that that none of them would be saved (14:22,30 and Obadiah 1:18).

Paul was not alone in teaching this doctrine. The Lord Jesus also recognized that there were children of Abraham who lacked Abraham's faith. "I know that you are Abraham's descendants" (John 8:37). Unlike Abraham who believed, they were the holy people of the Lord in an external sense only, unbelievers lacking the fruit of genuine faith, even having the devil as their father (John 8:31-47). By faith Abraham rejoiced to see Jesus' day, but when that day had arrived, some of Abraham's children who were born into great covenant privilege, picked up stones to kill their father's Lord. They were Abraham's descendants by covenant and circumcision, but not by conversion.

The Early Division

Among God's covenant people there were rebels (1:2). At the time Isaiah wrote, rebels were the clear majority. Not a few, but many would fall (8:15), yet there would still be believers. The remnant is the stump of a fallen tree. That dead tree was apostate Israel. That remnant stump was the only part of the Israel tree with spiritual life. The remnant people are the holy seed, just as Isaac was, and Ishmael was not (Genesis 21:12). For both stump and seed, see Isaiah 6:10-13. Isaiah 4 teaches that all who will be assembled on Mount Zion will be true believers. (Note Hebrews 12:22.) Unbelievers will be outside. Believers enter Jerusalem to approach the Lord (66:20,23), but to see the rebels they would need to go outside (66:24).

The Final Separation

Note the basic distinction in Revelation 22:14,15 where some are in and others outside. God had said repeatedly that He was Israel's God and repeatedly that they were His people. (See Exodus 7:4,16; 29:45,46 for a small sample.) Except for the believing remnant, only the Lord was faithful to this covenant bond. Even then, the remnant was faithful only because God had cleansed them bringing them to repentance and faith. For believers, the covenant became a living union with Christ. In the end, only the remnant are the covenant people. Note the covenant language of the redeemed in the New Jerusalem. "…They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God" (Revelation 21:3). In eternity the covenant people will be comprised of believers only. Salvation will be the experience of the entire number in the holy city, no longer just a fraction of it. Believers will not be a remnant piece off the larger roll; they will be the whole thing. The "not my people" verdict (Romans 9:25,26), will be God's fully implemented rejection of unbelievers. They will be sons of the kingdom in hell (Matthew 8:12). God will exclude them even though they were once people of such high privilege (Romans 9:1-5). They shall not be admitted, for "nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb's book of life" (Revelation 21:27; Isaiah 4:3). Remnant always implies that something is partial, but when all rebels will be removed, the term remnant must be retired from use. Why? "In that day" (4:2) the people of God will be comprised of cleansed people only. Remnant describes a fraction, but in the new earth the home of righteousness (2 Peter 3:10-13) all shall know the Lord from the least to the greatest (Jeremiah 31:34; Isaiah 11:9). The remnant will become the whole.

The Reason there is a Remnant

Why would Sodom be destroyed and Jerusalem spared to have survivors? The remnant do not claim God's mercy on them for their righteousness. They speak very differently in Isaiah 53, confessing that they were those who at one time did not esteem Christ. They viewed His death as if He had been stricken by God deservedly. To their amazement they found that it was for them He had been pierced. Once they were bent on going astray, all of them, yet their iniquity had been laid on Christ. He was stricken for their transgressions, and by His knowledge He brought them justification. There is no self-righteousness here. (See also 59:9-13.) God was not exaggerating when He called Jerusalem Sodom (1:10); why then did God deal so differently with Israel? Centuries earlier, the Lord had given His answer for this in Leviticus 26:44,45:

Yet in spite of this, when they are in the land of their enemies, I will not reject them or abhor them so as to destroy them completely, breaking my covenant with them. I am the LORD their God. But for their sake I will remember the covenant with their ancestors whom I brought out of Egypt in the sight of the nations to be their God. I am the LORD.' " [Note more in 26:40-45.]

The lost in Israel were lost because of their unbelief; but the remnant were saved, because within this wayward people God had an elect according to grace. He would have mercy on whom He would have mercy (Romans 9:15), and there was a "remnant according to the election of grace" (Romans 11:5).

The Connection with Christ

Isaiah 6:13 says without elaboration, "The holy seed is the stump." Naturally seed (a collective word) may refer to a people. Here in Isaiah 6, it does. But in Galatians 3:16, seed (in the singular) refers to Christ. The remnant trusts in Christ (Isaiah 10). The connection with Christ comes into the open in 11:1, "There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse and a branch from his roots…" Isaiah taught first about drastic judgment with only a stump surviving. Then, by the Holy Spirit he added that Christ will emerge from that remnant stump. Christ came from David the son of Jesse. He, a tender plant and a root out of dry ground (53:2), is the shoot Who was endowed with the Spirit (11:2; Mark 1:9-11). He is the Banner the Gentiles will seek (11:10), and the One Who will gather His remnant from all directions on earth (11:11). Christ and the remnant are joined; both come from the stump. Any definition of the genuine Israel that excludes Jesus Christ as the source of life in it is false. Any Israel that excludes Jesus Christ, as the State of Israel does, cannot be the seed of Abraham. He is the father only of those who believe (Romans 4:11,12,16-18). We must not create exceptions. "If you are Christ's, then you are Abrahams' seed, and heirs according to the promise" (Galatians 3:29). Many evangelicals mistakenly focus on the fallen tree, a dead tree. They are looking in the wrong place, because the channel of all blessing in this world is in the stump, out of which the living shoot has come, our Lord Jesus Christ.

Three Controversial Implications

1) The State of Israel

The concept of survivors involves the truth that God has preserved those He would save. In the days of Noah, God did not destroy the entire population of the earth; He saved a remnant of eight. In covenant mercy, God did not wipe out Jerusalem the way He did Sodom and Gomorrah (1:9). The survivor/no survivor difference reveals on one hand patient grace to Israel and on the other, final judgment on Sodom. In 70 AD when the Romans destroyed Jerusalem, there were no survivors. Those who believed Christ knew from Matthew 24:15-21 to flee. By the warning believers heeded, God removed the remnant from Jerusalem. The destruction, of a Sodom kind, was a way God showed His rejection of the Jerusalem which no longer had a remnant.

Hebrews, written before 70 AD, asserted two things related to this:

— The long delay of Israel for forty years in the desert was so that not one God rejecter of that generation could enter His rest (Hebrews 3:7 – 4:3). God likewise gave forty years after the crucifixion of Christ in 30 AD before Jerusalem was destroyed.

— that another Jerusalem existed. This Jerusalem with continuance is Mount Zion, the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem (Hebrews 12:22). All who believe are part of that Jerusalem. Like Abraham we wait for a city whose builder and maker is God (Hebrews 11:10). With the Old Testament saints we desire a better country, and we live by faith concerning this place not yet seen (Hebrews 11:1,2,7), believing God has prepared a city for us, as in Hebrews 11:16. Never does the Book of Hebrews make the visible city of Jerusalem the focus of God's program for His people.

The Apostle Paul spoke in the same way of two Jerusalems in Galatians 4:22-26. One, the present city of Jerusalem (the one without survivors in 70 AD was like the son of Hagar, the offspring of unbelief. The other city, the Jerusalem that is above, is free. Similarly, in Philippians 3:20, Paul told Christians that their citizenship is in heaven.

In spite of Biblical evidence against it [See the added note below], many today believe that the earthly nation of Israel is the seed of Isaac, heir to the Israel's ancient promises, and the Israel of God's blessing. The promises of God are enjoyed only in Christ (2 Corinthians 1:20), so to reject Christ (as the nation of Israel does) is to step outside God's promises. The Lord has never indicated that He will apply the benefits of Christ to those who reject Him. Having turned the gospel down by rejecting the Son of David as their king, they thereby gave up all claim of being the true Israel. The Jerusalem destroyed in 70 AD had no survivors. That city and any successor to it is not God's remnant. The only way back to the covenanted promises to Abraham is to receive the Son of David and thereby to enter His kingdom. This will bring not only possession of the land of Israel, but of the entire world (Romans 4:13; Matthew 5: 5). Thus there are two Israel's: the apostate and the true. Which one does God bless as His remnant? We do not need to choose, for by its rejection of the Anointed Son of God and David (Psalm 2), the Israel "which now is" (Galatians 4:25) has answered the question for us. The crux of interpretation is to settle this question: "Is the current state of Israel the true seed of Abraham, and thus beneficiaries of Abraham's promises?" Anyone who answers "yes" to that has adopted a doctrine (unintentionally, I hope) in which the blessings of God are bestowed apart from faith in Christ. That ought to make us pause and retreat from such a position. The doctrine of the remnant should help us distinguish between the false and the true Israel. The true Israel is the one to which you were admitted when you believed in Christ (Ephesians 2:11-22; 3:6). It is the church of Christ.

2) The Baptism of Believers Only

Just as there was a believing Israel within the nation of Israel, so it is with the visible church. Beyond doubt, the covenant sign of circumcision was initially for the entire covenant community, though applied to males only. It was not commanded as something the believing remnant should practice. If it were remnant circumcision, then such a feature would line up well with believers' baptism today, because the remnant was identified by faith. Circumcision was for those entering the covenant, of any age, whether elect or not, whether they were ever regenerated or not. In Reformed theology, we say the same thing: the sign is a covenant sign; we do not say from it that that person is a believer. We do not think of it as a remnant sign. Just as the gospel proclaimed may be heard without faith, the same gospel may be set before our eyes in a sacred washing without faith being present. God joins His gracious words of promise to baptism, but the ritual itself does not unite to Christ. We are united only by faith. Many die rejecting Christ and join the ranks of baptized covenant breakers in hell. Like circumcision, baptism calls for faith in the One Whose Name and claim is placed upon us, and Whose saving gospel promise is given to us.

We are often reminded of the fact that the New Testament never gives an example of the baptism of any infant, nor does it ever command such. This seems to be a fatal flaw in our practice. The answer is that believers today are explicitly said to be children of Abraham, heirs of those very promises (Galatians 3:29). Then too, we lack any word to rescind placing the covenant sign on our infant children, because God has not instructed us that He has changed how He has chosen to administer His covenant. For this reason, we say we are not at liberty to deny the covenant sign to covenant children. The silence of Scripture on this is a greater problem for those who limit baptism to a later exercise of faith than it is for applying the covenant sign to covenant children, as was the case in the Old Testament. The tendency to do this may be on the assumption that baptism is first of all a response to the Lord, as in "following the Lord in baptism". In some sense, this is so as in the case of adult baptism, where we DO require a confession of faith, but baptism (like the Lord's Supper) is first and foremost a gospel communication to us, before it is a response from us.

3) The Federal Vision Movement

The matter of baptism has been an unsettled difference among Christians for centuries. Zionism is more recent in evangelical circles, about a century old. (The pivotal Balfour Declaration supporting Zionism was in 1917.) The Federal Vision has come out in the open within conservative reformed circles since 2000. It undoubtedly percolated subsurface for a few years previously. I have not a scarp of information of what they may have said or would say directly about the concept of a remnant. But I will address it anyway. If they avoid the issue, they have good reason to leave it alone.

What is clear in the Federal Vision movement (or "conversation") is the notion that all enter covenant with the Lord by water baptism. By this they mean that one is united to Christ in a living spiritual bond by means of water baptism. Yes, they have said that and more. They do not insist that there must be faith in order to be united to Christ, because, in their view, union with Christ is simply effected by baptism. (This is a rejection of Heidelberg Catechism Q. & A. 32.) Under great pressure, they admit that all the baptized have all the spiritual benefits with the obvious exception of perseverance, because, in their view, a person truly united to Christ may yet lose spiritual benefits by apostasy. Furthermore, Roman Catholics are united to Christ by their Trinitarian baptism; therefore evangelism is to call on them to repent of their sins re the mass and Mary, etc. If they do not they will lose their union with Christ. In this way, evangelism becomes a call for our obedience, rather than an announcement of Christ's. Evangelism is "if we can just get people baptized" and then instructed. In its worst form, FV teachers sidestep the obedience of Christ for us, and some even deny the imputed righteousness of Christ, or accept as orthodox those who do. Though they would object to my wording, some of them are really teaching that we will be saved by our covenant keeping, not Christ's in our place. (This is frightfully close to Roman Catholic theology.)

They say that all enter covenant by baptism, and all are in covenant in the same way. There is no invisible church distinguished from the visible church. There is no internal/external covenant relationship. Such distinctions are rejected. The congregation is not addressed with the likelihood that some may not be truly saved, because all ("head for head") are in covenant in precisely the same way and there is no other way. The church you see is all there is. There is no real church of true believers distinguished from the visible community of church members professing Christ and practicing Christian sacraments. In other words, though I have never heard them say so, there is no remnant, for the simple reason that the very idea of a remnant does not fit in with one of the main elements of their system of doctrine. They deny that there are two ways a person may be in covenant with the Lord: 1) as a covenant member externally, or 2) in spiritual reality. Further analysis is not called for in this appendix. That teaching is a matter now under competent review in the URCNA. Synod spoke against this doctrine in 2007; now we wait for detailed scrutiny. Hopefully, Federal Vision doctrine will be ground to a fine powder on a very windy day.

What I have written will not fit every advocate of the movement, but this is a general appraisal of it. Though they dislike the term baptismal regeneration, some even teach (not very openly) that justification is by water baptism. My point is this: in Isaiah especially, there is abundant evidence that there was a covenant community of God's holy people, Israel, yet many in Israel were covenant breaking rebels. Then there were survivors who were a believing remnant. I would be utterly amazed to hear any Federal Vision advocate admit that this plain distinction exists in Scripture, chiefly because it runs directly counter to the heart of their teaching. However, the chief danger in the Federal Vision is not a distorted view of the remnant, but something far more basic (though related), namely, a twisted doctrine of salvation by baptism. If there were only two choices available to me personally, whether to link with the Federal Vision or join a Baptist church, I would join the Baptist church immediately. Baptist doctrine does not replace salvation by faith with the error of salvation by baptism.

The first diagram below shows different views of who should be baptized. It also shows in the case of the Federal Vision where a theology can go if we fail to see the Bible's teaching of a remnant of true believers (infallibly known by and visible to God alone). This believing remnant is within the visible church which professes to belong to the Lord, a profession true for many members, but the Lord's church also has in it those who do not. The Lord knows those who are His.

Who Should Be Baptized?

Covenantal Baptism: Baptism is the outward sign of a covenant bond.

Believers' Baptism: Baptism is an outward sign limited to professors of an inward reality

Reformed view: Covenant People = All who are in covenant

Baptist view: Remnant only

Federal Vision: Baptism establishes union with Christ, a spiritual reality for all who have been baptized. There is no visible/invisible church distinction. Thus there is no remnant within the covenant people. All are in covenant in one sense only.

Federal Vision teachers issued a statement in 2007, after some frank rejections of their position by reformed courts addressing their doctrine. One surprise statement they made is this

The Visible and Invisible Church

We affirm that there is only one true Church, and that this Church can legitimately be considered under various descriptions, including the aspects of visible and invisible. We further affirm that the visible Church is the true Church of Christ, and not an "approximate" Church.

We deny that such a distinction excludes other helpful distinctions, such as the historical church and eschatological church. The historical Church generally corresponds to the visible Church—all those who profess the true religion, together with their children—and the eschatological Church should be understood as the full number of God's chosen as they will be seen on the day of resurrection.

This statement is clearly backtracking, but such an admission was needed and is welcome. If indeed these teachers mean what they say, then we should be able to expect no further teaching that all baptized members are in covenant with God in the same way "head for head". If they do not or will not cease to speak this way, then they are again denying the real distinction between a visible professing church of baptized persons and the invisible believing church (whose members ought to be baptized) and who are identified with certainty as true covenant members only by God rather than a ritual with water. The Bible's teaching on the remnant is identical to the doctrine of a remnant in a wider covenant community.

An Additional Note:

This appendix is about the remnant and how it impacts other questions. I suggested above concerning The State of Israel that there is Biblical evidence that does not fit the popular views of many evangelicals about the nation of Israel. 4 I owe some evidence for my statement; thus this additional note. Some who differ with me on this are my very dear, close friends and some are my relatives. (That would also be true on the matter of believers' baptism.) On the views of the Federal Vision, its advocates have viewed me as a critic and opponent of their doctrine. In this they have been correct.

In Matthew 4:12-25

Galilee as the location of our Lord's ministry is mentioned a number of times. Both the location and the ministry were a fulfillment of Isaiah 9:1,2. That passage moves to include the birth and rule of Christ, "… unto us a child is born, to us a son is given …". The effect of Jesus' ministry was a dawning light for those in darkness (9:2). To this, Isaiah adds two more pictures to illustrate Messiah's blessing: joy in harvest and military relief from oppression. The For of v.6 shows that the coming of Christ is the cause of the dawning light, joy and deliverance. Why the joy? Why the defeat of their enemies? The answer is, "FOR to us a child is born…" Furthermore, this Son will establish and uphold His kingdom (9:7) in the face of any opposition. In the middle of all this, Isaiah added "You have enlarged the nation…" (9:3). If we take the nation to be the Jewish people in Jesus' time on earth and in the generations that followed, we find that that nation was actually greatly reduced, not just dispersed, but reduced in territory and population. Would not the massacre of every living soul in Jerusalem reduce the nation? However, if we take "the nation" the way Peter does in 1 Peter 2:9, nation can be applied to all believers as God's nation. If we insist that the nation must be the Jewish people, then the great problem is that as a result of rejecting Him, that nation shrank. Isaiah's prophecy cannot apply to them, but it fits the spread of the gospel, God was admitting Gentiles to "citizenship in Israel", the household of God, (Ephesians 2:12,19). Jesus built His church (Matthew 16:18, and in so doing, He "enlarged the nation".

In Jeremiah 31:38-40

God stated that Jerusalem would be rebuilt and it was, centuries before the birth of Christ. God's then declared, "The city will never again be uprooted or demolished." The reason is that God's people in a new covenant (Jeremiah 31:31-34) will have covenant faithfulness instilled in them. The Jerusalem of stones and lumber was demolished in 70 AD. Does this make God's word in Jeremiah 31:40 a broken promise? Some say the prophecy refers to a later Jerusalem to be built in a time still future to us. Then they say that that is the Jerusalem which will never be demolished. That interpretation will not do. Jeremiah prophesied that the city of his day would be destroyed, and that city was the one to be rebuilt, and it was. We have no reason from the text of Jeremiah 31 to doubt that he spoke of any other Jerusalem. The notion that Jeremiah had in mind a much later Jerusalem is needed to avoid the conclusion that the Jerusalem destroyed in 70 AD was no longer the city of the living God. It also avoids admitting that the church of believers in Christ is now the real Jerusalem never to be destroyed. This is the fulfillment of Jeremiah 31. Jeremiah's words can only apply to the "city of the living God" mentioned in Hebrews 12:22. The new Temple will be built of living stones (the believers in 1 Peter 2:4-10); the cornerstone is Christ. His apostles and prophets are its foundation. This new temple is His church. This is how Ephesians 2:19-22 and 1 Peter 2 understand Isaiah 28:16. The point here is that Jerusalem and the Jewish people were being cut off (as in Romans 11) until the unbelieving descendants of Abraham return to the Lord and are taken in again. The remnant left Jerusalem in 70 AD. What they left was no longer the Jerusalem that could claim God's promise of Jeremiah 31:40 as a continuing city, or any other promise except for forgiveness of sin by faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.

Notes:

  1. For more on the surviving remnant see Appendix A, attached to the Notes on Isaiah 2-4.
  2. This citizenship in Israel includes Gentiles who have believed (Ephesians 2:12 & 19). In Psalm 87 we find that God will record as native citizens, ("born in Zion" even) Egyptians and Babylonians who acknowledge Him. This astounding grace is so (it is so) though they were aliens born outside the people of God and outside the land of Israel.
  3. All references in this appendix are from Isaiah unless otherwise noted.
  4. On the issue of Israel's right to the land, I have offered some rebuttal of The Coming Apocalypse, A Study of Replacement Theology vs. God's Faithfulness in the End-Times, by Dr. Renald E. Showers, published by The Friends of Israel, Bellmawr, NJ USA © 2009. This is found on my website: http://www.grebeweb.com/linden/#renald_showers
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