For the Christian reader, the message of Isaiah is generally received as a message of hope and promise. We assume we are unlikely to be invaded by Assyrians or Babylonians and so Isaiah’s message of imminent judgment and doom is usually skipped over. However, the Christian would be well served to recognise that God’s greatest judgment is yet to come, and that we will not be immune from his searching evaluation.
Taking our cue from the New Testament writers, however, the Christian is confident that Jesus Christ is indeed the fulfilment of the forward-looking promises in Isaiah. Isaiah’s message contains promises about God’s Messiah that enrich our understanding of Jesus: his mission, his character and his own self-understanding. This Messiah figure seems to come in three guises, in three major units of the book, set in contrast against the three prominent kings of Judah.
In the context of the failed Davidic kings– arrogant and cursed Uzziah (aka Azariah), apostate Ahaz and gullible Hezekiah– Isaiah spoke about a glorious king yet to come (Isa 1-39). In the aftermath of Hezekiah’s great sin of unbelief and the judgment of exile on a sinful people, Isaiah foresaw the sin-bearing Servant of the Lord (Isa 40-55). Seeing the post-exilic people still in subjection and without any king at all, Isaiah promised the coming Conqueror, exacting vengeance and bringing salvation (Isa 56-66).
An initial appreciation of these three messianic figures is found in each of four passages from each of the three units of Isaiah.
The Glorious King
(not the failed Uzziah, Ahaz and Hezekiah)
Isaiah 9:1-7; 11:1-16; 32:1-8; 33:17-24
The Servant of the Lord
(redeeming the exiles)
Isaiah 42:1-4; 49:1-6; 50:4-9; 52:13-53:12
(rescuing the returnees)
Isaiah 59:20-21; 61:1-3; 61:10-62:7; 63:1-6
And so the message of Isaiah is summed up as, something like, “Although God’s people have failed at every point, because of his grace, God will send both judgment and a suffering Saviour King who will deliver his people.”