In this article the extensive use of Isaiah 55 in the gospels and the Apocalypse will be reviewed. It also will enlarge upon the sub theme of our recent articles which have related to the call of the Gentiles.

Isaiah 55—Its Significant Place in the Servant Prophecies

 The Servant prophecy outlines the sufferings of Messiah and spans seventeen chapters of the prophecy of Isaiah (Isaiah 40–56).

In Isaiah 53 the sufferings reach a climax for Yahweh’s servant is put to death by his own people, the chosen nation, who failed to recognise in him the hallmarks of Divine approval. In so doing they unwittingly fulfilled the Scripture and so there was opened to all mankind a way to salvation.

Isaiah 54 recounts the blessings resulting from Messiah’s death and resurrection. Barren Zion, Yahweh’s bride, is comforted with the assurance that she shall have more children than she lost (Isa 49:19,20), and is bidden to extend her tent pegs! (v1–3). Then Zion is pictured forgetting her shame in the joy of being reconciled to her husband (v4– 10). The permanence of her new relationship with Yahweh is wonderfully illustrated in the record, for it will rest on a covenant as unchangeable as the oath to Noah, and will be as enduring as the everlasting hills (v6–10). Then the figure changes and Zion is likened to a city which shall be built with lavish magnificence. Then an important precondition is referred to: this will only be possible provided Zion’s citizens are educated by Yahweh Himself: “And all thy children (Benim) shall be taught of Yahweh” (v13). The strong determination of Yahweh to bring this change of fortunes about is emphasised in the concluding verses (15–17). Woe to those who would disturb the peace of the redeemed! The guarantee lies in the fact that both makers and users of weapons (that might be used  against His people) are His workmanship! He can then snuff them out in an instant should He so desire. This remarkable chapter is rounded off with the words: “This (that is, all that has gone before) is the heritage of the servants of Yahweh, and their righteousness is of me, saith Yahweh”.

 Thus we have presented a summation of the fruits of the work of salvation which has come by Jesus Christ. This is a fitting preamble to the great call that reaches out to all men, without exception, in Isaiah 55.

A Divine Invitation—Isaiah 55:1–3

 All are encouraged, or rather implored, to partake of the blessings Messiah has won. Isaiah 55 and 56 present a compelling appeal to “everyone” to listen, to pause and consider what God has on offer in His Son. Many times is this appeal made, albeit in different terms, depending on the hearer’s circumstances (Is 55:1,6; 56:1) and status (Is 56:3–6, the eunuch and stranger).

Note the strength of the appeal to listen in the following words: “Ho, everyone that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price” (Isa 55:1). Never before was so much offered for no cost! All could and can afford it!

Three times in this verse alone hearers are invited to “Come” as well as once in verse 3, “Incline your ear, and come unto me”. It is notable that the mode whereby these blessings would be made available was by hearing, inclining the ear, by being “taught of Yahweh” (v16). This anticipates and accords with the New Testament emphasis upon hearing and faith being the means of justification in Yahweh’s eyes. The oft repeated words of the Lord,

Thy faith hath saved thee”, emphasises this truth. In Isaiah 55:2 there is an appeal to reason which has great relevance today. Those engaged and preoccupied in the pursuit of earthly good are  called upon to reason with the offer of complete satisfaction, even an everlasting covenant of life, the “sure mercies of David” (v3).

At this point some allusions to these verses in the ministry of the Lord will be considered.

Matthew 11:28, 29 “Come Unto Me All Ye That Labour”

 “Come unto me, all ye that labour, and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

 The opening words clearly allude to Isaiah 55:1. There is the same appeal to come, and words are addressed to all who labour. All human labour not sanctified and in accord with the Father’s will shall come to nought. This is a perception that only those who have faith can make. The seeming permanence of man’s labours is a mirage. In the Kingdom such works will be forgotten and worthless. Responding to Jesus’ call to come to him leads to true rest, for sins that separate from God can be forgiven in Him, and peace with God be found. Jesus’ appeal is to the lowliest. To the poor the gospel was and is preached and a ready response found. Truly he is “meek and lowly” in heart and seeks out those of the same disposition. The proud and arrogant do not “hear his voice” (John 8:43,47).

John 6:27 “Labour Not For the Meat that Perisheth”

 These words of Jesus were addressed to the people who followed him to Capernaum after being fed miraculously on the eastern shores of Galilee. Again these words have clear echoes from Isaiah 55:1, as do other words of his that follow in his notable speech in the synagogue of Capernaum. Jesus had just fed the 5000 with bread multiplied from a mere five loaves, by God’s power. His actions foreshadowed the provision of “his flesh” which would be “meat indeed”. “I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst” (John 6:35—note the allusions to Isaiah 55:1).

Unfortunately many of those who came to Jesus did not appreciate the deep significance of his actions. They “sought” him, “not because they saw the miracles, but because they did eat of the loaves  and were filled” (v26). His reference to “seeking him” also comes from Isaiah 55:5.

In verse 27 Jesus says that the meat he would give “endures unto eternal life”. There is reference to eternal life in Isaiah 55:3 also, for those who hear “shall live”, and God “will make an everlasting covenant with them, even the sure mercies of David”.

 “The sure mercies of David” have reference to the resurrection. (This will be dealt with, God willing, in a subsequent article in this series). It is significant that on four occasions Jesus assures those who “believe on Him” that they shall have “everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day”(v 39,40,44,54).

There is reference to wine to quench thirst, as well as bread to allay hunger. Jesus also refers to both constantly in John 6. For example, in verse 53 he says, “Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you”. Thus he anticipates the last supper.

Also, retrospectively, the children of Israel were provided with bread from heaven and water from the rock at Rephidim in consecutive chapters (Exodus 16 and 17). These forecast the ultimate Divine provision in the Son of God (1 Cor 10:34).

Three Further Links Between Isaiah 55 and John 6

  • They shall be all taught of God” (John 6:45)

 These words are taken from the preceding chapter, Isaiah 54:13. This direct quotation from the “context” of Isaiah 55 shows that we are “on track”. We are following the Old Testament background in which the Lord’s mind was immersed when he made this speech. The words reflect upon why so many of his hearers “murmured” and spoke against his claims (v 41–43). The tragedy lay in the fact that they had not listened to the prophets; the Father would draw men to Jesus who had first “heard, and learned of the Father”. The proof of this lay in Isaiah’s, or rather, God’s words, “And they shall be all taught of God”. Despite this rejection Jesus continued to teach on behalf of the Father—“These things said he in the synagogue, as he taught in Capernaum” (v59).

  • Bread from heaven” (v31; Ex 16:4; Neh 9:15)

In this remarkable chapter Jesus aligns himself with the bread which God provided from heaven for his people. There were similarities and differences to be appreciated. The bread in the wilderness was a type of something far greater. Whereas the manna satisfied one generation of one nation, which ultimately died (v49), the bread of God, which is he which cometh down from heaven, would give life (eternal) unto the world (all nations)!

Jesus was “from heaven” in the sense that his begettal as the Son of God was by the Holy Spirit overshadowing the virgin Mary. This fact accounts for the character he revealed and the mighty works he did. Truly he was God’s “beloved Son in whom he was well pleased”.

 But Jesus also said he would “ascend up where he was before” (v62). He was the Word of God “made flesh” at his birth (John 1:14). Following His death his mission for the time being would be complete, and he would be brought again from the dead and be seated at the right hand of the Father (Psa 110:1; 16:11). “He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens, that he might fill all things” (Eph 4:8–10, Psa 68:18). So the first part of the mission of the Word of God would be completed with Jesus’ ascension.

Jesus’ words about “coming down from heaven” and “ascending up where he was before” are echoes of Isaiah 55:10,11. Here the all powerful Word of God is likened to the “rain [which] cometh down” and the “snow from heaven”. Inevitably there is a response to these Divine blessings, “seed to the sower” and “bread to the eater”.

 So also the Word of God which was “made flesh” when the Holy Spirit caused a virgin to conceive has produced a result, “bread indeed” and “drink indeed”. It has not “returned” unto God void but has accomplished and prospered in that which it was sent forth to do.

  • “Come unto me”

 It has already been pointed out that the appeal to “come” occurs four times in Isaiah 55:1–3. It is fascinating and instructive to note how many times Jesus gives the same invitation. He does not send men away empty. He seeks to include and save. So should we also. Note how many times he speaks of “him that cometh to me” (v35, 37, 44 etc).

When John and Andrew first nervously followed Jesus, he invited them to “Come and see” where he dwelt (John 1:38–39).

Not only do we find so many references to Isaiah 55 in John 6, but in the following chapter in John, when Jesus is present at the Feast of Tabernacles six months later, there are a number of significant allusions to this wonderful chapter in Isaiah.

Isaiah 55 in John 7

 In order to provide the reader with an exercise in Bible study, the allusions from Isaiah 55 in John 7 will be set forth in summary fashion. The gist of the references will require thought and meditation.

  • John 7:37 Here is a direct quotation from Isaiah 55:1.
  • John 7:27 The question of Christ’s origin is that which the rest of this chapter deals with. Again Jesus speaks of being “sent” from God (v28) and of going to “him that sent me” (v33). Compare this with the Word of God which “goeth forth out of my [God’s] mouth”, and does not “return” to Him void (Isa 55:10,11).
  • John 7:35 The Jews questioned where Jesus would go, if they would not be able to find him, “Will he go unto the dispersed (“diasporan”—Jews) among the Gentiles and teach the Gentiles?” Isaiah 55 also anticipates the call of the Gentiles, for the call is to “everyone” and the response is foretold in verse 5, “thou shalt call a nation that thou knowest not, and nations that knew not thee shall run unto thee”.
  • John 7:34 “Ye shall seek me, and shall not find me.” This was the tragic result of the blindness of Israel, despite Isaiah’s words, “Seek ye Yahweh while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near” (v6).
  • John 7:39 The Holy Spirit was not yet given. The reason given is because “Jesus was not yet glorified”. What is referred to by this expression? It speaks of the Lord’s resurrection and immortalisation (cp Acts 3:13). Interestingly, this language is drawn from the Servant Prophecy. The reason given by the prophet for all nations responding to Messiah is, “because of Yahweh thy God, and for the Holy One of Israel; for he hath glorified thee.” The resurrection of the Lord would be the compelling message of the apostles as they went forth to preach the gospel, and their personal first-hand witness to his death, burial and resurrection would convince many. Also, as he said, the Holy Spirit would be given (Acts 2:1; John 16:7), following his glorification.

  Isaiah 55 in the Apocalypse—Prince of the Kings of the Earth

 In Isaiah 55:4 we read of God’s purpose with His Son. Not only would he be the Saviour but be “given as a witness to the people, a leader and commander to the people”. As such he would “call” (through the mouth of his apostles and followers who would preach the gospel in his name) and lead nations to salvation. The result for those who follow this remarkable leader is given in verse 12, “Ye shall go out with joy, and be led forth with peace”.

 In the Septuagint version the word for “witness” is “martyrion”, and for “leader” is “archonta”. Significantly these two words appear in Revelation 1:5, where the Lord introduces himself as the “faithful witness (“martya”), and the first begotten of the dead, and the prince (“archon”) of the kings of the earth”.

 “Let Him That Is Athirst Come”

 In his concluding words to man, Jesus Christ twice appeals in the words of Isaiah 55:1.

  • Rev 21:6 I will give unto him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely” (cp Rev 7:17).
  • Rev 22:17 “And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take of the water of life freely”.

 Wonderfully, these last words of the Lord to us combine his insistence to “come”, the universality of the appeal, the total satisfaction of his offer, and its availability without cost.

May we drink deeply of this water of life as we make our pilgrimage in a dry and thirsty land to the Kingdom in these last perilous days. Remember that Jesus also said, “Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled” (Matt 5:6).

Conclusion

 Isaiah 55 is frequently cited in the New Testament, being the great call to salvation in the Old Testament Scripture. The Lord used these words often and their importance and relevance in our lives is thereby emphasised.