TODAY’S READING: Isaiah 64–66
Isaiah closes much as the Bible does—with both worship and warning. Between 586 and 538 BC, Jerusalem and Judea were largely uninhabited. The exiles returned chastened and sobered saying: “Our holy and beautiful temple, where our fathers praised you, is burned up with fire; and all our pleasant things are laid waste” (Isa. 64:11). The Lord responded: “Heaven is My throne, and earth is My footstool. Where is the house that you will build for Me” (66:1)? Then Isaiah culminates with: “I will gather all nations and tongues; and they shall come and see My glory… They shall declare My glory among the Gentiles. Then they shall bring all your brethren for an offering to the Lord out of all nations… All flesh shall come to worship Me” (vv. 18–20, 23). The very last words of the book are then these: “For the worm does not die, and their fire is not quenched. They shall be an abhorrence to all flesh” (v. 24). I can’t help but wonder if John the Revelator was reading Isaiah when he was in the Spirit on Patmos.
Because humanity is foolish, we cycle through the same lessons. We seek the Lord and He blesses us. We confuse His blessings with our merits, so we stop worshiping Him and looking to Him for help. In our arrogance we think we are more merciful than God, so we make up wicked laws and call them loving. In our hubris we think we can have dirty hearts and clean water, so we get all excited about saving the earth while we lose our souls. A repeated error of man (including Christian man) is to think that we can redeem the earth, that we can solve long-term problems of decay through political, social, educational, or civic action. We can’t. The world is irrevocably broken and its destiny is destruction by fire. We mourn with the returning exiles—the beauty is lost and we will never get it back. God agrees and tells us His temple is in heaven and all the earth will be burned by fire.
My wife and I love to refresh at a little cottage we built some years ago in Kenya. It’s a little memory of and advance hope of Eden. We will garden and steward it alongside our neighbors and friends, but the record of history is unrelenting: Should Jesus tarry, eventually some fallen human or evil will despoil it. The world is fallen and falling to fire. There is but one lasting hope: when the King returns to judge the living and the dead, destroy this world and all sin by fire, and recreates a new heaven and a new earth untainted by evil. Only then is His Kingdom in place. Only then is there eternal joy. And in that day all flesh shall worship. In that day He will gather all nations and tongues for His glory.
I long for that day. I live for that day. I will die for that day. My hope is in the fiery Lord of heaven and earth. I long for the day He comes in glory to set us all free. The Bible is unvarnished in what that means: eternal fire for the wicked and eternal joy for the redeemed. Brothers and sisters, the Bible calls us to one single-eyed purpose: Let us preach the gospel of the coming King in all the world to every people group, whatever it costs us, and then the end of the beginning will come (Matt. 24:14). And then the beginning of unending Eden for all who have worshiped He who is both our Beginning and our End.