A retired priest once told me that the prophecies of the Old Testament were fulfilled in the New Testament, and the reading we heard from Isaiah 2 is a good example. Isaiah talks about the coming of the Lord, which was fulfilled when Christ came to earth on the first Christmas over 2,000 years ago.
Isaiah had a vision for Jerusalem and the nation. He called for a spiritual renewal and a re-commitment to the covenant and trust in God. Isaiah saw Jerusalem and the Temple as potential beacons for all the nations. He called the people to be faithful to God, to put aside plans for a military solution to their problems and instead seek peaceful ways.
God had a vision for His world that was fulfilled when Christ came. The phrase “in the latter days” refers to a time in the future when God would visit the earth to bring judgment and salvation. From the perspective of the New Testament, this takes place at the second coming of Christ. This will mean salvation and blessing not only for Israel but for people from all the nations who will learn God’s ways and worship Him.
Does God have that same purpose for His world today? Are we as members of the contemporary church to teach the spirit of righteousness and show justice? We don’t have a choice between one ministry or the other. Our primary tasks are conversion and conscience. Jerusalem served as the centrepiece of Isaiah’s prophecy in Old Testament times, and we are called on to be the agents of God’s truth for our world.
In front of the United Nations headquarters in New York City there is a sculpture of a man beating a sword into a plow point. Under it there is an inscription from Isaiah 2:4: “…..they shall beat their swords into plowshares…” The United Nations is a secular embodiment of the vision God gave to Isaiah. The United Nations and its predecessor the League of Nations were formed with high hopes that they would provide a forum for nations to work out their differences in a rational manner and usher in the vaunted day of world peace. The usefulness of the United Nations cannot be argued, but we are still light years away from a world where humanity lives in harmony.
While the vision of Isaiah and the framers of the United Nations is similar, the source of the vision is very different. People who put their faith in the United Nations as the means to that peaceable kingdom are placing their trust in human rationality and good will. This will meet with disappointment because it has underestimated the depths of human selfishness. For Isaiah and for people of faith, the peaceable kingdom is an act of God which God will create in His own time and in His own way. This kingdom will not be achieved until all people submit to God’s lordship.
Isaiah’s vision of peace is linked to the concept of God as Judge. Isaiah 2:4 states that God will judge between nations. There is a lesson for us here. Conflict results when we insist on judging things from our narrow, human perspective, but peace and harmony come from God and His point of view.
What would happen if the spirit and the law of God were in practice today? In the religious wars of the world, God would make judgments against aggressors and rebuke both sides for fighting in His name. He recommended three policies for world peace:
- Economically the nations of the world must change military spending into peaceful production in order to stimulate growth and serve the people.
- Politically, a peace pact needs to be signed that will stop the fighting.
- Militarily, the training for war must cease.
When Christ returns and sits on His throne in Jerusalem, the world will enjoy uninterrupted peaceful conditions. Warfare will continue to characterize human history until Christ returns. When we learn God’s ways we unlearn the ways of war. When we walk in God’s light, we leave behind the dark and evil places where lives and civilizations are snuffed out by war and violence. Who among us hasn’t wished and hoped deeply for peace in the midst of conflict, fighting, and war, especially with the war in Ukraine? The challenge of the future is that it is a dream. Too often peace seems to be a dream.
The reason we will turn the weapons of warfare into the tools of cultivation and agriculture is not just because we won’t need them to fight anymore. It will also be because we will catch the wave of God’s Son, Jesus Christ. We will be eager to get at the holy and divine work of growing things to feed all creatures and all people at the never-ending Wedding Feast of the Lamb.
God’s ideal for His house is that it will be “the light of the world, school of the nations, temple of the earth, seat of judgment, throne of God, and symbol of peace.” All of Isaiah’s prophecies and God’s promises are aimed at a glorious future. Isaiah’s vision points to the promise that God’s Law will one day bring the same sense of identity, stability, and moral purpose to all the world. There will come a time when all the nations and peoples will be the beneficiaries of God’s good rules that structure life so that all human beings flourish. Because God will reign and justice will come from observing the Law’s fair rules, there will be no need to fight. People will live together in peace all over the world. Isaiah gives us no timetable for this, and Jesus warns that the day of fulfillment is known to God alone, but the promise is true and the hope is real.
Isaiah’s prophecy gives us hope. We live by faith because we lean into a vision that is yet to come. We embrace God’s truth and walk in God’s ways. We believe that the day will come when Isaiah’s vision of universal peace, of the lion laying down with the lamb, will be our reality. In the meantime, we wait and watch for it, we work for it, we claim it as God’s vision for us and for all creation, and we allow this vision to give purpose and direction to our lives. When we walk in the light of the Lord we give peace a chance to happen in our lives and the lives of those around us.
Isaiah’s vision can spur people to make the vision true in their own lives and to work to see it come true in the surrounding community. It should stir us to put aside violent and aggressive ways with which we try to force our will on others; to urge us to turn the weapons of war into instruments of peace.
Since the time of Jesus’ death and resurrection, people and nations have been streaming into God’s kingdom. Jesus’ followers have gone out to spread the good news to the ends of the earth, as Jesus commanded us to do in Acts 1:8. When He returns, the words of Revelation 21:24 will come true: “The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it.” There will be peace in God’s kingdom.
Advent is a season of preparation, so how can we prepare for Christ’s Second Coming? We can “beat our swords into plowshares” by:
- Removing violent words and expressions from our speech.
- Not watching violent movies or TV shows or playing war-like video games.
- Praying for peace in other parts of the world and in our own communities.
- Reaching out to be reconciled with those with whom we have been in conflict.
- Encouraging our children to be more peaceful in language, games and behaviour with other children
- Praying for wisdom to see where in our personal and business lives we need to beat our swords into plowshares.
- Supporting individuals and groups working for reconciliation to conflicts.
So how are we to respond to Isaiah’s prophecy? The key is in Isaiah’s invitation to “come and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob.” We will see in God’s teaching the transforming spirit of righteousness and the wise law of justice change us and our world. We will be in the world’s foremost classroom because we will be seated at God’s feet. He teaches us His ways, so that we can walk in His paths. If we try to go it alone in our faith, we will never grow as God wants us to.
Isaiah invites us to acknowledge the darkness of our personal lives. Isaiah’s prophecy encourages us to turn to God for forgiveness and healing. We will have to “climb the Lord’s mountain”, and that is not an easy task. In fact, we can’t do this on our own. Only with God’s help can we accomplish His call to live in peace with one another. Peace can only happen when we turn to God for instruction, live under God’s judgment and respond to His arbitration.
- Jeremiah, David, The Jeremiah Study Bible: New King James Version (Nashville, TN: Worthy Publishing; 2013; p. 882)
- McKenna, D. & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 17: Isaiah 1-39 (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1993, pp. 68-71)
- Stanley, C.F.: The Charles F. Stanley Life Principles Bible: New King James Version (Nashville, TN: Nelson Bibles; 2005)
- MacArthur, J.F. Jr.: The MacArthur Study Bible: New American Standard Bible (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers; 2006)
- Br. David Vryhof, “God’s Promise of Universal Peace.” Retrieved from www.ssje.org
- The Rev. Dr. Charles Qualls, “Let Us Go Up to the Mountain of the Lord!” Retrieved from www.day1.org
- Jude Siciliano, OP, “First Impressions, 1st Sunday of Advent, -A-, December 1, 2019.” Retrieved from firstname.lastname@example.org
- Jude Siciliano, OP, “First Impressions, 1st Sunday of Advent, -A-.” Retrieved from email@example.com
- Anderson, Russell: Lectionary Preaching Workbook, Series V, Cycle A (Lima, OH: CSS Publishing Company; 1995; pp. 17-21)
- Scott Hoezee, “Isaiah 2:1-5 Commentary.” Retrieved from https://cepreaching.org