The nation of Israel has long been split into two nations: North and South, Israel and Judah. They’d weathered wars against each other and the surrounding nation for a few hundred years, but neither kingdom can stand through the storms to come.
The Assyrians are rising in power, and the Babylonians will overthrow them in time. And the people hadn’t remained faithful to their God, and so their security as a nation cannot last.
The North will fall soon. The South will fall later. God raises up the prophet Isaiah to tell the people this message.
But by His grace, the message doesn’t end there.
Yes, God is going to bring the Assyrians against the North. He will bring the Babylonians against the Assyrians. He will send the South into exile in Babylon. He will bring the Persian Cyrus against the Babylonians.
But He will also bring Israel back home. He will also rule Israel as Immanuel: God with us. He will judge Israel’s enemies, and bring all the nations to Himself, too.
And somehow, a mysterious Servant will bear the sins of many, reconciling Israel and the world to the Lord.
That’s Isaiah’s message. God’s judgment is coming, but so is His comfort.
Theme verse of Isaiah
Zion will be redeemed with justice
And her repentant ones with righteousness. (Is 1:27)
Isaiah’s role in the Bible
Isaiah is the first of the Major Prophets. When God had a message for the people, He spoke to them through prophets: men moved by the Holy Spirit to speak on God’s behalf.
Isaiah is the only Major Prophet whose story takes place before the fall of Jerusalem. While Jeremiah and Ezekiel prophesy about these events before and while they happen, Isaiah looks into the future to see Judah’s Babylonian captivity.
And the other writers of the Bible look back at Isaiah when telling the story of Israel. Isaiah personally interacts with the kings of Judah, the Southern Kingdom, and so his story covers some of the events in in Kings and Chronicles:
- The writer of Chronicles cites Isaiah as a source of information on kings Uzziah and Hezekiah (2 Ch 27:22; 32:32;).
- Isaiah describes the spiritual conflict surrounding Ahaz’ war against Israel (the Northern Kingdom) and Aram (Is 7, 2 Ki 16:5–9; 2 Ch 28).
- Isaiah goes into much detail on Hezekiah’s reign: including his run-in with Sennacherib and miraculous recovery.
- Isaiah foretells the downfall of Israel at Assyria’s hand, which we learn about in more detail in Second Kings (2 Ki 17).
- Isaiah anticipates Judah’s fall, too. He predicts that the Babylonians will carry the Jews away. We see this come true in Second Chronicles and Daniel (2 Ch 36; Da 1:1–2).
- Lastly, Isaiah makes the incredible prediction that Cyrus, the Persian emperor, will send the Jews back home. Second Chronicles ends on this note, and the story continues in Ezra (2 Ch 36:22–23; Is 44:28–45:7).
Isaiah’s most famous prophecies, however, concern Jesus. No other prophet is referenced in the New Testament as much as Isaiah. Isaiah preaches of the coming King who will rule Israel and the nations in justice and peace. He also looks forward to a special Servant of God: one who will fulfill all Israel’s duties and bear their sins.
Here are just a couple of famous things Isaiah said about Jesus:
- “Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel” (Is 7:14). This prophecy ultimately points to Jesus, as the Gospel of Matthew points out (Mt 1:22–23).
- “All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; but the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him” (Is 53:6). The entire fifty-third chapter is a beautiful prophecy of Jesus.
Isaiah’s words also have a special meaning for today’s church (which is made up of Jews and Gentiles). Paul quotes Isaiah extensively in his letter to the Romans as he explains salvation, the sovereignty of God, and the new relationships between the Lord, the Gentiles, and the Jews.
Quick outline of Isaiah
- Messages of righteous judgment (1–35)
- Judgment on Israel and Judah (1–12)
- Judgment on the other nations (13–24)
- Promised restoration of all nations (25–27)
- Woe and judgment on Jerusalem (28–33)
- Woe to nations, blessings to Jerusalem (34–35)
- Isaiah’s ministry to Hezekiah (36–39)
- Messages of comfort and salvation (40–66)
- Israel’s coming restoration (40–45)
- Babylon’s judgment (46–48)
- Salvation through the Servant (49–56:8)
- Rebuke for the wicked (56:9–59:21)
- Zion glorified (60–65)
- God’s righteous, final judgment (66)