Judgments for the Earth, Joy for the Righteous, Glory for God
Judgments for the Earth, Joy for the Righteous, Glory for God
They raise their voices, they sing out; they proclaim in the west the majesty of the Lord. Therefore in the east honor the Lord! In the coasts and islands of the west honor the name of the Lord, the God of Israel. (Isa 24:14-15)
Main Idea: God’s ongoing judgment of human cities one after another culminates in the destruction of the final version of the rebellious “City of Man” by the glory of Christ’s second coming.
- The Judgments of God on the Whole Earth (24:1-6)
- “Isaiah’s apocalypse”: a sweeping vision for human history
- God’s judgments extended to all nations and all peoples (24:1-2)
- The reason for the devastation: human sin (24:5-6)
- Yet in wrath, God remembers mercy (24:6).
- The End of Worldly Joy (24:7-12)
- Pursuit of escape in worldly pleasure shut down by God (24:11)
- The destruction of the City of Man (24:10-12)
- A constant cycle of invasion/destruction
- All suffering in some sense a judgment from God
- The Reactions of the Righteous (24:13-16)
- The godly remnant (olives and grapes) (24:13)
- Two very different reactions by the righteous
- Outside of Christ, Inescapable Judgment (24:17-22)
- They will run, but they cannot hide or escape.
- A fine filter, and none can slip through (24:17-18).
- The whole earth will be destroyed (24:19-20).
- Satanic powers will be judged with their earthly puppets (24:21-22).
- The Finale: God’s Glorious City (24:23)
- City of Man removed; City of God remains forever.
- The new Jerusalem: Mount Zion and Jerusalem become truly one.
- The new universe has a new light source: the glory of God in Jesus.
The Judgments of God on the Whole Earth
As we come to this chapter we are entering a new section of Isaiah’s prophecy. The unifying theme of Isaiah 13–23 has been God as the sovereign ruler of the nations—for his own glory, for the judgment of the wicked, and for the salvation of the righteous. Now, Isaiah 24–27 serves as a glorious capstone for this section:
- Isaiah 24: God’s judgment generally on the whole earth
- Isaiah 25–27: The delight of the righteous in God’s defeat of death, the redemption of Israel, and the fruitfulness of the world
Isaiah 24 is a very complex and detailed chapter; it covers the destruction of the whole earth and the establishment of God’s open reign in Jerusalem. Because of these grand and glorious themes, and because the total destruction of the earth is in view, some have called this chapter “Isaiah’s Apocalypse” (Motyer, Prophecy of Isaiah, 200). It speaks in generic terms about many judgments from the Lord that would occur from Isaiah’s time onward, including our present day, all of them dress rehearsals for the final drama described so powerfully in the book of Revelation. A key concept for biblical eschatology comes from this statement from Jesus: “As the days of Noah were, so the coming of the Son of Man will be” (Matt 24:37). “As it was, so it will be”: past events are dress rehearsals for final events. Redemptive history will continue in repeatable patterns until these events are consummated in the second coming of Jesus Christ. So in Isaiah 24 we have judgments (plural) from God on the whole earth because of human sin; those judgments follow a certain pattern, likened to the fall of a walled city: “The city of chaos is shattered; every house is closed to entry” (v. 10; emphasis added); “Only desolation remains in the city; its gate has collapsed in ruins” (v. 12; emphasis added). “The city” represents what Augustine called the “City of Man”: the sum total of human society and experience, the “world.”
That the city represents all of human society is increasingly true: in 2008 it was established that 50 percent of the world’s population lives in urban settings; by the year 2050 it will surpass 66 percent (UN, “World Urbanization Prospects”). But whether urban or rural, the “City of Man” represents all of humanity.
Isaiah 24 depicts the fall over and over again of aspects of the City of Man, usually by other people invading and destroying them.
So in the fifth century when Attila the Hun was sweeping through Europe and destroying one village after another, he was called the “Scourge of God”; the destruction was seen to be God’s judgment for sins. So also with the Vikings in the tenth century and Genghis Khan and the Mongol horde in the thirteenth century. Conqueror after conqueror, sweeping in to batter gates to pieces and destroy buildings; people giving up joy and music and drinking and dancing, cowering behind the barred doors of their homes, hoping to survive, but there would be no escape. Isaiah 24 depicts this pattern that earth’s people will experience again and again until Jesus returns.
The chapter begins with a sweeping statement: God is stripping the earth bare and scattering its inhabitants (v. 1). It begins with two dramatic words in the original Hebrew, “Look, the Lord.” By faith in the prophetic word, we are to see God’s activity in these judgments, as if the chapter pulls back a veil that had hidden his activity. God is not a tribal deity, concerned only with Israel and the tiny promised land. His judgments range over the whole surface of the earth and over every era of human history.
And there is no escape from the net of God’s judgments. Verse 2 makes it plain that God’s judgments extend to “people and priest alike, servant and master, female servant and mistress, buyer and seller, lender and borrower, creditor and debtor”—no one escapes. The entire surface of the earth will be stripped completely bare (v. 3), and the whole earth will mourn, wither, and waste away (v. 4). The reason for the judgment is the wickedness of the human race (v. 5). People have defiled the earth, so God rises to judge the polluters (Rev 11:18).
Yet in all this wrath, God still remembers mercy (Hab 3:2). Though “only a few survive” (Isa 24:6), there is nevertheless a remnant that God preserves for salvation. They are a picture of the elect, chosen by grace, whom God rescues from the wrecks of time by the cross of Christ.
The End of Worldly Joy
As we’ve seen in Isaiah 21–22, people are always seeking escape from God’s judgments in sensual pleasures. The night Babylon fell, Belshazzar was feasting (Dan 5). So also in secular history: while the Red Army was conquering Berlin in 1945, the remnants of the wicked Nazi regime were partying in Hitler’s bunker before committing suicide. In Isaiah 24 we see this so clearly—the yearning for joy and revelry, music and drinking, eating and carousing. But God has shut it all down completely (vv. 7-9). The noise of the revelers comes to an end; the last song has been sung (v. 8). The sinners in the “City of Man” must face the judgments of God sober, and they will be slaughtered themselves: only desolation is left in a once-populous city (v. 12).
In all this horror there are no accidents, there is no bad luck, no fate. Every time a city has been destroyed by a conquering army it is in some sense a judgment from God. As Jesus said in Luke 13:1-5, unless every sinner on the face of the earth repents, they “will all perish as well.” The sinners in the cities that weren’t destroyed in Germany in 1945 were no better in God’s sight than the ones who lived in Dresden or Berlin, which were leveled by the Allies. Every destruction is a message from God: repent or perish!
The Reactions of the Righteous
As the “City of Man” is destroyed, the righteous among the human race have two very different reactions, both reflected in verses 13-16. First, the godly are depicted as a tiny remnant (a few olives or grapes) who lift their voices in triumphant worship, celebrating the majesty of the Lord. Because of thousands of years of successful missions spreading the gospel of Christ, this chorus of praise extends from west to east, from the distant islands of the west to the ends of the earth. This is one valid reaction: unbridled joy in the Lord, the mighty Warrior, who has destroyed his enemies completely.
On the other hand, Isaiah represents an opposite reaction by a godly man. In verse 16 he grieves and laments the details of this vision. He feels like his body is wasting away because of the judgments of the Lord that are yet to be unleashed on the earth. Perhaps Isaiah is lamenting all the damage the treacherous have yet to do on the earth, like Elisha weeping in advance of Hazael’s destructions (2 Kgs 8:11-12). The earth will be viciously convulsed before the Lord returns, and much suffering is still to come.
Outside of Christ, Judgment Is Inescapable
In verses 17-22 Isaiah makes it plain that God will weave his net with fine mesh, and no one will escape. “Panic, pit, and trap” await the people of the earth, and whoever escapes the one will be caught by the second; whoever escapes the first two will be swallowed by the third. Like an earthquake, when the very ground beneath your feet is convulsing, there is no refuge, nowhere to hide (vv. 18-20). These terrifying verses show a comprehensive level of destruction that will ultimately be fulfilled only in the awesome events depicted in the book of Revelation. Outside of Christ, there is no escape possible.
As the earth itself is being judged, the Lord also will punish the “army of the heights in the heights” and the “kings of the ground on the ground” (vv. 21-22). This refers to Satan and the demonic “evil, spiritual forces in the heavens” (Eph 6:12) and to the human rulers who dominated people under their power. So both the demonic puppet masters and the human puppet kings will be judged on that final day. Verse 22 mentions a dungeon in which some of these “army of the heights” and “kings of the ground” are held until the time comes for final judgment (Matt 8:29; 2 Pet 2:4).
The Finale: God’s Glorious City
The final verse in this awesome chapter depicts the Lord of Armies reigning as king on Mount Zion in Jerusalem, putting his glory on display before the elders. Some believe this refers to the millennial reign of Christ in Jerusalem; others see it finally fulfilled in the new Jerusalem depicted in Revelation 21–22. The City of Man will be purified, with only the redeemed left. The City of God will descend and become the City of Man, with the God-Man, Christ, at the center of the union. And how glorious that will be!
All phases of the City of Man, erected for the glory of man, will be laid waste: first, by one another, in an ongoing cycle of invasion and destruction, one rising empire supplanting the previous; second, by the second coming of Christ. He will bring the final judgment of God, to which all of these smaller dress rehearsals have been pointing throughout history. Because this is so, we should live as aliens and strangers on earth, looking ahead to a “city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God” (Heb 11:10). We should be faithful in preaching the gospel to the ends of the earth so the worldwide worship of the Lord by the remnant (Isa 24:14-16) may come to pass. By faith we should flee to Christ, who is the only refuge from the coming wrath. Like Isaiah, we should weep for the misery yet to come, for it will be dreadful. But in the end, we should celebrate the glory of the Lord who will be reigning in Zion (the new Jerusalem) forever.
Reflect and Discuss
- How does the expansive vision of this chapter teach us to look on the ebbs and flows of history?
- Matthew 24:37 says, essentially, “As it was, so it will be.” How was the destruction of Berlin by the Russians in 1945 a dress rehearsal for the destruction of the earth right before the second coming of Christ?
- What did Augustine mean by “The City of Man” and “The City of God”? How does this chapter depict the destruction of “The City of Man”?
- How does this chapter depict the end to all empty, earthly joy (alcohol, music, revelry, etc.)?
- How do verses 14-16 depict the fruit of missions?
- Why does Isaiah grieve and mourn in verse 16?
- How does this chapter depict the impossibility of escaping the judgment of God? How could we use these verses to preach the gospel to people?
- What do verses 21-22 teach about the judgment of satanic forces and human rulers alike?
- How does verse 23 depict the final glory of God’s reign? How does it harmonize with the vision of the new Jerusalem in Revelation 21–22?
- How does this chapter help motivate us to evangelism and missions?