For a sermon i preached by the same title, click here. (The linked sermon is different content than the following post.)
I’ve heard something several times in my life. It used to be the coolest thing, but the last time i heard it, my mind said, “Wait, that’s a dangerous thought.”
Isaiah is divided into two sections, chapters 1 through 39, and chapter 40 through verse 66. . . . The first half of the book, chapters 1 through 39, speak of coming judgment and captivity. . . . Twenty-seven chapters remain, chapters 40 through 66. The theme of the second section is grace and salvationJohn MacArthur, “The Astonishing Servant of Jehovah,” GTY.org, April 1, 2012.
In his book, The Gospel According to God, MacArthur explains further,
Isaiah is divided into two sections, the first containing thirty-nine chapters and the second twenty-seven chapters. The Bible also is divided into two sections: the thirty-nine books of the Old Testament and the twenty-seven books of the New.John Macarthur, The Gospel According to God (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2018), 16.
At first glance, i really do like that explanation. But it quickly becomes problematic. It forces a wedge between the two main sections of Isaiah that isn’t actually there. It forces a wedge between the Old and New Testament that doesn’t exist. It pits the “wrathful” God of the Old Testament against the “loving” God of the New Testament.
(In MacArthur’s sermon from April 1, 2012, he is careful to point out the promise of judgment included in Isaiah 40-66, so i am not arguing against MacArthur in this post. I am using him as a jumping-off point to discuss the consistency of God.)
We are all aware that the Old Testament portrays God as wrathful. We are all aware that the New Testament represents God as loving. The first part of Isaiah is easily seen as focusing on judgment, and the last part of Isaiah is easily recognized as focusing on grace. I will not seek to prove those things in this post. Instead, i will focus on the grace of God in the first part of Isaiah, the judgment of God in the last part of Isaiah, love in the Old Testament, wrath in the New Testament, and the simple fact that the God of the Old Testament is the God revealed in Jesus Christ in the New Testament.
Let’s dive in.
God’s Grace in Isaiah 1-39
At church this month, i have started opening each service by reading a section of Isaiah. We’re slowly working our way through the book, but as of yesterday morning, we had finished chapter 1 (it took three weeks).
The thing that i was amazed to find as i read each passage throughout the week was just how much God cares for His people. In Isaiah 1, it is evident that God’s wrath is primarily focused against those who are abusing their power.
The faithful city— what an adulteress she has become! She was once full of justice. Righteousness once dwelt in her— but now, murderers!Isaiah 1:21 (HCSB)
It is a sick, twisted culture that would say, “Murderers don’t deserve to be punished.” The primary problem God has with Israel is that they are letting murderers run free. “Righteousness” can also be translated as justice. God’s problem with Israel—the reason why judgment was imminent—is that they had ceased practicing justice. But this is why the grace of God is so evident in the early portions of Isaiah. The Gospel—repent and believe—is clearly stated in 1:16-20.
Wash yourselves. Cleanse yourselves. Remove your evil deeds from My sight. Stop doing evil. Learn to do what is good. Seek justice. Correct the oppressor. Defend the rights of the fatherless. Plead the widow’s cause. “Come, let us discuss this,” says the LORD. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they will be as white as snow; though they are as red as crimson, they will be like wool. If you are willing and obedient, you will eat the good things of the land. But if you refuse and rebel, you will be devoured by the sword.” For the mouth of the LORD has spoken.
God’s wrath is still seen here because it’s not enough to just tell people, “God loves you.” They must also know the consequences that await if they refuse to repent. But God’s grace is apparent: “Turn back to Me! Seek justice again!” God doesn’t want to destroy His people. But as a holy God (cf. Isaiah 6:3), He cannot let sin stand in His presence.
The fact that His wrath is primarily aimed toward people breaking the second greatest commandment (“Love your neighbor as yourself,” cf. Mark 12:29-31) shows that He loves humanity. He expects people (especially those who call themselves His people) to treat each other with love and honor.
One more example of His love will suffice in the first 39 chapters of Isaiah.
In Isaiah 36, we come to a timestamp. We read that this chapter (and the following) takes place “in the fourteenth year of King Hezekiah.” At this point in Israel’s history, the northern kingdom has been taken captive by Assyria for their sinfulness, and the King of Assyria has besieged the southern kingdom of Judah. (Because the northern kingdom “Israel” is no more, the southern kingdom can now be synonymously referred to as Israel.)
The King of Assyria sends a message to King Hezekiah and the people of Jerusalem, telling them, “No god has stopped us yet. Your god will be no different. You’re all doomed.”
Hezekiah sends people to Isaiah and asks him to seek the LORD for the nation.
“Tell your master this, ‘The LORD says: Don’t be afraid because of the words you have heard, which the king of Assyria’s attendants have blasphemed Me with. I am about to put a spirit in him and he will hear a rumor and return to his own land, where I will cause him to fall by the sword.’”Isaiah 37:6-7 (HCSB)
Hezekiah also prays to God on his own:
LORD, it is true that the kings of Assyria have devastated all these countries and their lands. They have thrown their gods into the fire, for they were not gods but made by human hands—wood and stone. So they have destroyed them. Now, LORD our God, save us from his power so that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that You are the LORD—You alone.Isaiah 37:18-20 (HCSB)
God sends Isaiah to Hezekiah with the following message:
“Therefore, this is what the LORD says about the king of Assyria: He will not enter this city or shoot an arrow there or come before it with a shield or build up an assault ramp against it. He will go back the way he came, and he will not enter this city. ⌊This is⌋ the LORD’s declaration. I will defend this city and rescue it because of Me and because of My servant David.”Isaiah 37:33-35 (HCSB)
Isaiah records the outcome in verses 36-38:
Then the angel of the LORD went out and struck down 185,000 in the camp of the Assyrians. When the people got up the ⌊next⌋ morning—there were all the dead bodies! So Sennacherib king of Assyria broke camp and left. He returned ⌊home⌋ and lived in Nineveh. One day, while he was worshiping in the temple of his god Nisroch, his sons Adrammelech and Sharezer struck him down with the sword and escaped to the land of Ararat. Then his son Esar-haddon became king in his place.
Why did He spare the city? Verse 35 says He did it “because of My servant David.” This is a reference to the Davidic covenant in 2 Samuel 7. God promised David that his descendant would sit on his throne forever. At the time of Hezekiah, “David” was Hezekiah. But within David’s loins, was the descendant who would rule forever—Jesus Christ. (Mary was physically descended from King David.)
There’s no more proof of God’s love in the first 39 chapters of Isaiah than this story. If God hadn’t spared Jerusalem, and if Hezekiah had been killed, the Messianic line would have ended, and Jesus Christ would have never shown up on the scene. If He’d never shown up, then we would still be dead in our sin (cf. Ephesians 2:1; 1 Corinthians 15:17).
What does John 3:16 say?
For God loved the world in this way: He gave His One and Only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.
He loved the world enough to preserve His ancestors despite Sennacherib’s threat to Jerusalem. God’s grace is plain in the first 39 chapters of Isaiah.
God’s Judgment in Isaiah 40-66
When my pastor started teaching a preaching class (almost a decade ago), i chose Isaiah 44:6-23 as my sermon text. Why? Probably because i’m a sucker for punishment. You shouldn’t pick a text that long for the first sermon you ever exegetically prepare. I’ve still yet to preach it.
But the text discusses the character of God, the folly of idolatry, and God’s promise to redeem His people. Verses 18-20 describe God’s judgment of idolaters. (If you enjoy sarcasm, Isaiah 44:9-20 is one of the most sarcastic passages in the Bible.)
Such people do not comprehend and cannot understand, for He has shut their eyes so they cannot see, and their minds so they cannot understand. No one reflects, no one has the perception or insight to say, “I burned half of it in the fire, I also baked bread on its coals, I roasted meat and ate. I will make something detestable with the rest of it, and I will bow down to a block of wood.” He feeds on ashes. ⌊His⌋ deceived mind has led him astray, and he cannot deliver himself, or say, “Isn’t there a lie in my right hand?”Isaiah 44:18-20 (HCSB)
This text is similar to Romans 1:18-32, where Paul describes God giving people over to their passions and sinfulness (note especially Romans 1:24, 26, 28). Paul says that this is how God’s wrath is revealed (1:18). He allows sinners to become hardened and trapped and blinded (to steal from Isaiah) in their sin.
Isaiah 44:20 is clear: “He cannot deliver himself.” This is a terrible statement of judgment. There is no worse news for sinners to hear.
The very last verse of Isaiah is used in the New Testament as a description of hell (cf. Mark 9:42-48). If anything should show us that Isaiah isn’t all grace in the last 27 chapters, it should be this fact.
As they leave, they will see the dead bodies of the men who have rebelled against Me; for their worm will never die, their fire will never go out, and they will be a horror to all mankind.Isaiah 66:24 (HCSB)
People will go to hell at the end of time. These are the people who are hardened in their idolatry. Those who refuse to repent of their injustices against others. Those who are too proud to say, “Jesus, I need You to take control of my life.”
Look, the LORD will come with fire— His chariots are like the whirlwind— to execute His anger with fury and His rebuke with flames of fire. For the LORD will execute judgment on all flesh with His fiery sword, and many will be slain by the LORD. “Those who dedicate and purify themselves to ⌊enter⌋ the groves following their leader, eating meat from pigs, vermin, and rats, will perish together.” ⌊This is⌋ the LORD’s declaration.Isaiah 66:15-17 (HCSB)
God’s wrath is real, and it is not limited to the Old Testament or the first 39 chapters of Isaiah.
If you’ve never submitted to Christ, i plead with you to do it today.
Love in the Old Testament
2 Samuel 12
The New Testament makes it clear that “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). But the New Testament doesn’t end there. The entirety of the verse states,
For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
In Leviticus, we discover that the “wages” of adultery is also death.
If a man commits adultery with a married woman—if he commits adultery with his neighbor’s wife—both the adulterer and the adulteress must be put to death.Leviticus 20:10 (HCSB)
This is why 2 Samuel 12 is so amazing when it comes to understanding God’s love in the Old Testament. In 2 Samuel 11, we read of David’s adultery with Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah the Hittite—David’s friend and fellow soldier. David ends up having Uriah killed in battle to cover up the fact that he impregnated Uriah’s wife.
When God sends Nathan the prophet to David in 2 Samuel 12, we are shown a parable of a rich man who steals a lamb from a poor man to satisfy his own selfish desires. David pronounces sentence against this man, not realizing that it is a parable:
David was infuriated with the man and said to Nathan: “As the LORD lives, the man who did this deserves to die! Because he has done this thing and shown no pity, he must pay four lambs for that lamb.”2 Samuel 12:5-6 (HCSB)
God’s love is shown by Nathan’s words to David in 2 Samuel 12:13.
Nathan replied to David, “The LORD has taken away your sin; you will not die.
How has the LORD taken away David’s sin?
Through the promised Messiah, who was to come. God counted David righteous because of Jesus’ sacrifice that was sure to occur some 1,200 years later.
If the God of the Old Testament was all wrath, then David would not have lived. On the surface, it looks as though God broke His own Law to let David live (but check out the sermon link heading this post for an answer to that problem).
It should be noted that between 2 Samuel 12:6 and 2 Samuel 12:13, six verses delineate the consequences of David’s sin, because—as Hebrews says—“the LORD disciplines the ones He loves” (12:6, cf. Proverbs 3:12). God’s love is shown in the Old Testament, even through the temporal consequences He deals out for the sins of His people.
There is no more explicit example of the love of God in the Old Testament than Psalm 136. This psalm repeats the phrase, “His love is eternal” twenty-six times. Verse 1 and verse 26 both start by saying, “Give thanks!”
- Psalm 136:1 (HCSB)
Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good. His love is eternal.
- Psalm 136:26 (HCSB)
Give thanks to the God of heaven! His love is eternal.
This is a stylistic tool known as inclusion. The psalm starts and ends with essentially the same phrase, which tips off the interpreter about what comes in between. Verses 4-25 are all reasons to thank God for His love. This psalm gives twenty-two examples of the love of God (in the Old Testament era!). These twenty-two specific examples can be broken down into the following broader categories:
- God does wonders, including creation (verses 4-9)
- God brought His people out of Egypt (verses 10-15)
- God brought His people safely to the Promised Land (verses 16-22)
- God brought Israel back from captivity in Babylon (verses 23-24)
- God provides food to all creatures (verse 25)
Note specifically verses 16-22.
He led His people in the wilderness. His love is eternal.
He struck down great kings His love is eternal.
and slaughtered famous kings— His love is eternal.
Sihon king of the Amorites His love is eternal.
and Og king of Bashan— His love is eternal.
and gave their land as an inheritance, His love is eternal.
an inheritance to Israel His servant. His love is eternal.
At first glance, we might wonder why this can be described as God’s love. Isn’t it more proof of the violent, wrathful, judging, Old Testament God?
God fights for His people. He loves them enough to protect them from their enemies. The simple fact is that God’s wrath is simply another side of His love. God loves His people and hates anything that would seek to harm them. For a modern-day example: If you love children, you hate abortion because it kills children. God loves His people and must, therefore, hate anyone who would seek to harm them. But, even in this, it is essential to remember that God still loves the enemies of His people (to a certain extent):
“Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked?” ⌊This is⌋ the declaration of the Lord GOD. “Instead, don’t I ⌊take pleasure⌋ when he turns from his ways and lives?Ezekiel 18:23 (HCSB)
God is love, even in the Old Testament!
Wrath in the New Testament
God showed His love most clearly by the sending of His Son. Jesus Christ was born to live the perfect life we could never live so that He could die in our place on the cross. He cries out from the cross:
And at three Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lemá sabachtháni?” which is translated, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”Mark 15:34 (HCSB)
There is no clearer proof of God’s wrath in the New Testament. Allow me to explain.
Mark 15:33 sets up the scene:
When it was noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon.
The Old Testament links this with the Day of the LORD. The prophet Joel declares:
Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision! For the Day of the LORD is near in the valley of decision. The sun and moon will grow dark, and the stars will cease their shining.Joel 3:14-15 (HCSB)
In case you need more proof, Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane that the cup of wrath might be taken away from Him (Mark 14:36, cf. Isaiah 51:17). He prayed so hard for this that He sweat drops of blood (cf. Luke 22:44).
We have records in church history of believers singing songs as they were crucified. Does this mean that Jesus was a scaredy-cat? May it never be! Christians who were crucified were only being physically killed; Jesus was being cut off from the presence of His Father. Jesus was suffering the punishment that we all deserve in hell for eternity–condensed into three hours on the cross.
As He prayed in the Garden, He was anticipating this horrible suffering. It rocked Him.
And on the cross, He cried out, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” because He was cut off from the presence of God because He became sin. God poured out His wrath on Christ for three hours in pitch-black darkness on that cross so that all who place their faith in Him might become “the righteousness of God in Him” (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:21).
If you never have before, i beg you this moment to place your faith in Christ!
2 Thessalonians 1
I pray that you have placed your faith in Jesus. God commands you–through this blog post–to trust in Jesus.
Another passage that describes the wrath of God in the New Testament is found in 2 Thessalonians.
It is a clear evidence of God’s righteous judgment that you will be counted worthy of God’s kingdom, for which you also are suffering, since it is righteous for God to repay with affliction those who afflict you and ⌊to reward⌋ with rest you who are afflicted, along with us. ⌊This will take place⌋ at the revelation of the Lord Jesus from heaven with His powerful angels, taking vengeance with flaming fire on those who don’t know God and on those who don’t obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction from the Lord’s presence and from His glorious strength in that day when He comes to be glorified by His saints and to be admired by all those who have believed, because our testimony among you was believed.2 Thessalonians 1:5-10 (HCSB, emphasis added)
God’s wrath remains on those who refuse to obey His command to trust Christ!
Eternal destruction is destruction for eternity. The Bible describes the eternal state of unbelievers as a lake of fire, which is not necessarily to be taken literally. But, if it is not literal, it is a metaphor for something absolutely terrible. You do not want to end up there.
A quick Google search explains that there are approximately 37.2 trillion cells in the human body. If eternal destruction is understood as being literally destroyed, then if 1,000,000 cells were destroyed a day, it would take 101,917 years to destroy every cell in a sinner. That’s a long time. But it’s not eternity. Imagine that happening, but then being reassembled and done again–over and over–for eternity. You don’t want to face the wrath of God!
Admire God as the Savior of humanity.
Obey His Gospel call!
Trust Christ today!
Jesus Christ is Yahweh
In Exodus 20:4, God commanded Israel:
Do not make an idol for yourself, whether in the shape of anything in the heavens above or on the earth below or in the waters under the earth.Exodus 20:4 (HCSB)
This is because God planned to present Jesus Christ as the image of Himself.
- Colossians 1:15 (HCSB)
[Jesus] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.
- Hebrews 1:3 (HCSB)
The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact expression of His nature, sustaining all things by His powerful word. After making purification for sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.
Jesus, the One who preached love and mercy in Matthew 9:13,
Go and learn what this means: I desire mercy and not sacrifice. For I didn’t come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
is the same one who will return according to Revelation 19 and gruesomely destroy all of His enemies:
Then I saw heaven opened, and there was a white horse. Its rider is called Faithful and True, and He judges and makes war in righteousness. His eyes were like a fiery flame, and many crowns were on His head. He had a name written that no one knows except Himself. He wore a robe stained with blood, and His name is the Word of God. The armies that were in heaven followed Him on white horses, wearing pure white linen. A sharp sword came from His mouth, so that He might strike the nations with it. He will shepherd them with an iron scepter. He will also trample the winepress of the fierce anger of God, the Almighty. And He has a name written on His robe and on His thigh: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS. Then I saw an angel standing on the sun, and he cried out in a loud voice, saying to all the birds flying high overhead, “Come, gather together for the great supper of God, so that you may eat the flesh of kings, the flesh of commanders, the flesh of mighty men, the flesh of horses and of their riders, and the flesh of everyone, both free and slave, small and great.” Then I saw the beast, the kings of the earth, and their armies gathered together to wage war against the rider on the horse and against His army. But the beast was taken prisoner, and along with him the false prophet, who had performed the signs in his presence. He deceived those who accepted the mark of the beast and those who worshiped his image with these signs. Both of them were thrown alive into the lake of fire that burns with sulfur. The rest were killed with the sword that came from the mouth of the rider on the horse, and all the birds were filled with their flesh.Revelation 19:11-21 (HCSB, emphasis added)
He is coming back. And this is what sinners who refuse to repent and trust Christ have to look forward to.
Trust Christ today!
One more text for consideration:
Who is this coming from Edom in crimson-stained garments from Bozrah— this One who is splendid in His apparel, rising up proudly in His great might? It is I, proclaiming vindication, powerful to save. Why are Your clothes red, and Your garments like one who treads a winepress? I trampled the winepress alone, and no one from the nations was with Me. I trampled them in My anger and ground them underfoot in My fury; their blood spattered My garments, and all My clothes were stained. For I planned the day of vengeance, and the year of My redemption came. I looked, but there was no one to help, and I was amazed that no one assisted; so My arm accomplished victory for Me, and My wrath assisted Me. I crushed nations in My anger; I made them drunk with My wrath and poured out their blood on the ground.Isaiah 63:1-6 (HCSB)
In Isaiah, this is God. In Revelation, this is Jesus. God and Jesus Christ are one and the same. It is a mystery, but it is to be accepted by faith. If we understand Jesus–in the New Testament–as a God of love, we must understand the “God of the Old Testament” as a God of love as well. If we think of Yahweh–in the Old Testament–as a God of wrath, then we must think of Jesus as wrathful as well. They are one and the same.
The name Yahweh itself comes from the Hebrew verb “to be.” Yahweh means, “I AM.”
Not, “I was.”
Not, “I will be.”
The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is the same God who revealed Himself in the person of Jesus Christ 2,000 years ago.
Place your faith in Him today!
In this with you.
Soli Deo Gloria
Thanks for reading.
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