The Story #3: A New Kingdom/Covenant Promises HopeSeries: The Story: A Big Picture View
Sin brought a curse upon mankind, but God made a covenant to bless the world in Abraham. Though God sought to dwell with and bless Abraham’s descendants, the Israelites, but the Law of Moses proved Israel to be guilty of sin. God allowed animals to be sacrificed to take away Israel’s sins, but the animal sacrifices could not permanently cleanse Israel of their sins. Worshippers under the Law had to continually and regularly offer animal sacrifices. This regular reminder of past sins did not lend to confidence before God. We are like Israel. The Law shows us that we all have disobeyed God and that we all deserve death and separation from God. This is important for us to remember since God’s solution and promise of hope will mean nothing to us if we do not know we have a problem. Therefore, it is right for us to fear and to lose confidence in ourselves when we read the Law.
But how could God be faithful to his promises to Abraham when mankind is so sinful? What hope could God give to the nations? The writings of the prophets tell of this hope. Though prophets were sent to other nations, the prophets mostly prophesied to Israel and Judah before, during, and after God’s punishments against them. God not only used the prophets to testify against Israel and Judah for their sins, God also used the prophets to tell Israel and Judah of a future day of salvation. One day, there would be good news. God would return to save and reign over Israel, Judah, and the world. Jeremiah 31:31-34 is a great place to start because it prophesies of the hope God promised in a new, future covenant with his people. Jeremiah wrote about 600 years before God began fulfilling this prophecy.
The New Covenant (Jeremiah 31:31-34)
Jeremiah 31:31–34, “31 Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, 32 not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. 33 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”
I Will Put My Law within Them (31:31-34). What is the first way this new covenant would be different from the old one? God says he will put his law within them and write his law on their hearts. This is a completely different result from the covenant and law Moses taught. Though some had God’s law written on their hearts (Psalm 40:8), most did not know God and had diamond-hard hearts (Zechariah 7:12). But God promises a new covenant where his people would know him and obey his law from their hearts.
I Will Remember Their Sin No More (31:34). Considering verse 34, how could people with “diamond-hard” hearts come to know God and internalize his law? God says he will forgive their iniquity and remember their sins no more. If a key difference between these covenants is God’s promise to forgive and forget past sins, this implies that something far greater than animal sacrifices is needed for God to justly pardon sins. But how could a just and holy God permanently forgive our many transgressions? Let’s notice a key prophecy of God’s future salvation through his servant in Isaiah 52:13-53:12.
The Suffering Servant (Isaiah 52:13-53:12)
Isaiah 52:13–15, “13 Behold, my servant shall act wisely; he shall be high and lifted up, and shall be exalted. 14 As many were astonished at you— his appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of the children of mankind— 15 so shall he sprinkle many nations; kings shall shut their mouths because of him; for that which has not been told them they see, and that which they have not heard they understand.”
Successful, Exalted, Marred, and Sprinkling Many Nations (52:13–15). How is God’s servant described here? God’s servant will act wisely (NET: “my servant will succeed”), be lifted up, exalted, and be marred beyond human likeness - causing many to be astonished. Sprinkling with blood is how Israel was cleansed from sin (cf. Hebrews 9:13-22), but verse 15 says this servant will sprinkle many nations. This servant’s global work is also referred to in Isaiah 49:5–6. “And now the Lord says, he who formed me from the womb to be his servant, to bring Jacob back to him; and that Israel might be gathered to him… he says: ‘It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel; I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.’” This servant will see great pain, but will be exalted and cause many nations to be sprinkled and cleansed. As we consider who this servant is, let’s continue reading in Isaiah 53:1–6.
Isaiah 53:1–6, “1 Who has believed what he has heard from us? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? 2 For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. 3 He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. 4 Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. 5 But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. 6 All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”
No Beauty, Rejected, Man of Sorrows, and Pierced for Our Sins (53:1-6). How is God’s servant described in these verses? He would have no form, majesty, or beauty to cause people to look at or desire him. In fact, Isaiah prophesies that this servant would be “despised and rejected by men” and acquainted with grief. Despite all these seeming negatives, Isaiah says in verses 4-6 this servant will carry our griefs and sorrows, be pierced for our transgressions, bring us peace with God, experience wounds that would heal us, and carry away everyone’s iniquity. Though people would kill this servant and say he was smitten by God, he would save people from their sins. Isaiah continues in Isaiah 53:7–12.
Isaiah 53:7–12, “7 He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth. 8 By oppression and judgment he was taken away; and as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people? 9 And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth. 10 Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand. 11 Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities. 12 Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong, because he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors.”
Silent, Overlooked, Innocent, Prolonged Days, Bear Iniquities (53:7-12). How is God’s servant described in these verses? There are many details, but what is most clear is that this servant’s suffering and death would be a terrible injustice. “He had done no violence and there was no deceit in his mouth.” Despite his innocence, he would go to his death silently and no one at the time would consider that his death was a sacrifice for the sins of others. We may wonder how God could stand for this, but verse 10 says this will be God’s will. Even verse 11 says the servant will be satisfied in his anguish. This is all because of what his death would accomplish. His death will be a guilt offering (vs. 10) so that the sins of many could be carried away and cause many to be accounted righteous. Not only will this servant be a guilt offering to take away sins, he will be the priest to make intercession for the transgressors.
Jesus Suffered for Sins. Who is this innocent servant who would be pierced and lifted up for our sins? Though this prophecy was written over 700 years before Jesus lived, Isaiah is clearly speaking of Jesus. Read Matthew 27 to see how clear this is. We are all like sheep who have gone astray, but Jesus lived with no sin. All of us have separated ourselves from God, but Jesus died to take away our sins and count us as righteous so we could have peace with God. This prophesy is an amazing testimony to the Bible’s inspiration. There are existing manuscripts of Isaiah dating to the 2nd to 4th centuries BC - well before Jesus lived and died. Yet, this text speaks in great detail of Jesus’ life and death. Even Jesus’ resurrection is foretold in verse 10. “… he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days…”
Other prophecies also say Jesus would have God’s Spirit upon him (Isaiah 11:2, 42:1, 48:16, 59:21, 61:1). Let’s look at one of many prophesies that speak of how in this new covenant God would not only forgive sins, but would also pour out his Spirit and dwell among his people once again. Notice Isaiah 32:9-18.
The Spirit Poured Upon Us (Isaiah 32:9-18)
Isaiah 32:12–18, “12 Beat your breasts for the pleasant fields, for the fruitful vine, 13 for the soil of my people growing up in thorns and briers, yes, for all the joyous houses in the exultant city. 14 For the palace is forsaken, the populous city deserted; the hill and the watchtower will become dens forever, a joy of wild donkeys, a pasture of flocks; 15 until the Spirit is poured upon us from on high, and the wilderness becomes a fruitful field, and the fruitful field is deemed a forest. 16 Then justice will dwell in the wilderness, and righteousness abide in the fruitful field. 17 And the effect of righteousness will be peace, and the result of righteousness, quietness and trust forever. 18 My people will abide in a peaceful habitation, in secure dwellings, and in quiet resting places.”
A Spiritual Desert (32:12-14). Noticing the imagery of verses 12-14, how does Isaiah describe the condition of Israel’s land and people? They are described as a spiritual desert. Unrighteousness and corruption dwelled in Israel, so there was no place for the security of God’s life-giving Spirit. God’s people were removed from their land and its emptiness was a picture of Israel’s spiritual emptiness.
A Spiritual Garden (32:15-18). Noticing verses 15-18, how does Isaiah say change will come about and what will that change look like? Israel would be a spiritual wasteland because of unrighteousness, but Isaiah prophesies that one day God’s Spirit would return and be poured out upon the people. The result would be the transformation of the spiritual desert into a spiritual garden - reminiscent of Eden. God’s Spirit would bring life and peace to his people once again. No longer would there be corruption, wickedness, distrust of God, and unrest. The people would be blessed. Righteousness, trust, and security would result. It is prophesied in Joel 2:28-32 that Israel could know when the Spirit had been poured out by the miraculous signs that would accompany this event. We will look at this fulfillment more closely in lesson 5, but in the next lesson we will turn to the Gospel of Matthew to become familiar with Jesus - the one through whom the whole world can receive salvation.