Isaiah lived in Judah and spoke to the people of the southern kingdom during critical decades (he wrote about 739-681 B.C.). His ministry spanned the rule of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah. Tradition says Isaiah as an old man was martyred by evil King Manasseh.
These were years during which Assyria was expanding toward world empire. Great pressure was placed on Judah. This danger, with the preaching of the prophets Isaiah and Micah, helped to stimulate a return to God led by godly King Hezekiah (715-686 B.C.). The great messages of Isaiah condemning Judah’s sin and social injustice show how greatly reformation was needed in Isaiah’s day.
But the revival was brief and superficial. Thus many of Isaiah’s messages look beyond his own time, to a future in which Judah will follow her sister Israel into exile.
Despite the dangers of Isaiah’s own time and despite his awareness that God will one day punish Judah, his final messages emphasize hope and confidence. God will bring his people back to the land and to intimate relationship with himself. Sin will be punished. God will send a Servant to redeem his people, and he will rule over an everlasting kingdom.
Isaiah was an intimate of King Hezekiah – probably a sort of court preacher. Most significantly, Isaiah responded totally to the Lord, and faithfully communicated God’s message for his time, and ours.
Isaiah’s Messianic Emphasis
In the NT John says that Isaiah “Saw Jesus’ glory and spoke about him” (John 12:41 “These things Isaiah said when he saw His glory and spoke of Him.”).
Many passages in this OT book speak of the coming Savior. Most of them focus on fulfillment of the Davidic covenant’s promise of a ruler. Key chapters: Isaiah 7 (a child born of a virgin will be Immanuel – “with us is God!”) Isaiah 11 (a descendant from David’s line will reassemble God’s people and establish a righteous kingdom) and Isaiah 53 (an individual identified as God’s Servant will die for the sins of others and thus bring salvation). Many other references in Isaiah flesh out this picture of God’s incarnation as a human being, come to suffer for his people and to rule over them forever.
Isaiah’s Servant Theme
A major messianic themeis found in what are called the “Servant Songs” (42:1-9; 49:1-6; 52:13-53:12). Israel, chosen by God for a servant role (41:8-9), has failed to be an agent of God’s grace. So God will send a Servant to pick up the shambles of the unfished task. This Servant will redeem Israel and all mankind. Isaiah beautifully portrays the Servant’s desire to serve God, his humility, the great personal cost of his obedience, and his suffering and death.
Jewish scholars long before Jesus’ birth recognized the Servant as the promised Messiah. But they were deeply puzzled at the contrast between the suffering servant and the triumphant ruler whom Isaiah also describes. This uncertainty can be understood by comparing the two lines of messianic teaching in Isaiah.
These apparent conflicts could not be resolved until, as history unfolded, it became clear that God intended two comings of the Savior: the first through incarnation, to suffer and die for humankind and the second as triumphant resurrected Lord, to establish a glorious rule at the end of time. Only after the coming of Christ could the prophet’s contradictory portrait of Israel’s Messiah be understood.