Isaiah is quoted more frequently in the New Testament than any other prophet. Why did the New Testament authors regard the message of Isaiah with such esteem?
Isaiah’s name refers to God’s salvation, and this is descriptive of his message. His ministry spans a period of about 40 years, beginning in the final years of King Uzziah of Judah (Isaiah 6:1) and continuing during the reigns of Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah.
Isaiah was married to a prophetess, and they had two sons (7:3; 8:3). Their names have specific meanings that relate to the prophetic predictions of their father. Shear-Jashub (7:3) means “a remnant shall return” and signifies the return of a remnant to God after punishment at the hands of their enemies.
The other son was named Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz, meaning “quick to the plunder, swift to the spoil,” which seems to refer to the destruction of the allied kings Rezin and Pekah by the Assyrians.
According to a tradition in the Talmud, Isaiah suffered a horrible death. He was fastened between two planks and sawn asunder. It’s likely that Isaiah is one of the heroes of faith referred to in Hebrews 11:37.
Isaiah is called the messianic prophet because he was deeply motivated and inspired by messages from God that spoke of a time in the future when Israel and all nations would be free from human suffering and sorrow under the rule of the Messiah.
The New Testament records that Isaiah “saw His [Christ’s] glory and spoke of Him” (John 12:41).
The Lion Handbook to the Bible states, “Isaiah was a visionary, his thoughts range freely over the whole scale of time. One minute he is describing God’s judgement on the Jerusalem he knows (the Assyrians about to pounce); the next it is God’s universal judgement on the evil—the end of the world as we know it; the beginning of a reign of perfect peace and justice” (David and Pat Alexander, p. 378).
Historical setting of Isaiah
Isaiah’s messianic visions are especially impelling if we consider that from his youth he lived under the threat of Assyrian aggression and witnessed the destruction of the northern kingdom of Israel at their hands (722 B.C.). Then a few years later, in about 701 B.C., he was present to see the dreaded Assyrian army halted at the walls of Jerusalem. God answered his prayers and miraculously intervened to defeat the army of King Sennacherib of Assyria (Isaiah 36 and 37).
Isaiah was not alive to witness the fall of the southern kingdom of Judah between 604 and 586 B.C.
The book of Isaiah is roughly divided into two parts: chapters 1-39 and 40-66. Certain higher critics and scholars of the Bible contend that Isaiah did not write the second division. Rather, they attribute this section to an unknown author they call Deutero-Isaiah, or a second Isaiah. Others have claimed a third unknown author or Trito-Isaiah for chapters 55-66.
It is beyond the scope of this article to detail all of the arguments. However, here are some of the reasons we believe Isaiah wrote the entire book:
- The book as a whole claims to be the work of one Isaiah (1:1; 7:3; 20:2; 38:4; 39:5).
- There is no conclusive textual or historical evidence of such authors.
- Further conclusive evidence that Isaiah wrote the entire book is that the inspired New Testament writers attributed both sections to the same author:
- John the Baptist cited Isaiah 40:3 in Matthew 3:3.
- Jesus quoted Isaiah 61:1-2 in Luke 4:18.
- Matthew 4:15-16 quotes Isaiah 9:1-2.
- Matthew 13:14-15 quotes Isaiah 6:9-10.
- Matthew 15:7-9 quotes Isaiah 29:13.
- John 12:38 refers to Isaiah 53:1, while John 12:40 is a quote from Isaiah 6:10.
- The apostle Paul quoted Isaiah 53:1 in Romans 10:16.
Dead Sea Scrolls confirm the accuracy of the preservation of Isaiah
In 1947 a young Arab Bedouin and his companions were searching for a lost goat in a region about seven miles south of Jericho, near the Dead Sea, when by chance he stumbled across a partially collapsed cave. Inside the cave he found a number of crushed jars containing several old leather scrolls with writing on them. The boy and his companions did not consider them of value, but nevertheless took the scrolls along with them.
Eventually these scrolls ended up at St. Mark’s Syrian Orthodox Monastery in Jerusalem, which, in turn, sent them to the American Schools of Oriental Research. The scrolls turned out to be very significant, as pointed out by Halley’s Bible Handbook: “One of these scrolls was identified as the BOOK OF ISAIAH, written 2000 years ago, and 1000 years older than any known manuscript of any Hebrew Old Testament book. An AMAZING DISCOVERY!”
Halley continues: “Essentially it is the same as the Book of Isaiah in our Bible, a voice from 2000 years ago … confirming the integrity of our Bible. W.F. Albright calls it, ‘The greatest manuscript discovery of modern times’” (pp. 286-287).
Outline of Isaiah
Below is one possible outline for Isaiah.
Chapters 1-5: God’s message of judgment and peace upon Israel and Judah.
Chapter 6: Isaiah’s vision and call to service.
Chapters 7-12: Coming punishment and distress upon Israel; future days of triumph through personal intervention by the Prince of Peace (9:6-7).
Chapters 13-23: A collection of prophecies against surrounding nations.
Chapters 24-27: Judgment pronounced on the whole world; spiritual blindness of nations to be removed (25:7).
Chapters 28-31: More warnings to the people of Israel and Judah.
Chapters 32-35: The reign of the Messiah, preceded by worldwide devastation.
Chapters 36-39: Incidents during the reign of Hezekiah; King Sennacherib of Assyria invades Judah.
Chapters 40-48: God’s promise to comfort and care for His people; the rise and fall of Assyria and Babylon predicted; the reign of Cyrus king of Persia foretold 150 years before his birth (45:1).
Chapters 49-55: God will redeem and comfort His people; amazing predictions of the suffering and death of Christ centuries before His first coming.
Chapters 56-64: God’s accusations against Israel; Zion’s shame and future glory; the people’s prayer for deliverance.
Chapters 65-66: Acceptable and unacceptable forms of worship; God answers the prayer of the people; new heavens and new earth promised.
God’s message of warning, comfort and hope
It is God’s desire that each of us not only listen to but act upon the warnings that He gave through His prophets of old. The prophets promised that after terrible national calamities and hardships, the Messiah—Jesus Christ—would come to establish His Kingdom, resulting in peace, prosperity and an abundant life for people around the world.
Isaiah issued many warnings to those who stubbornly refused to acknowledge their guilt. “Alas, sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, a brood of evildoers. … They have forsaken the LORD, they have provoked to anger the Holy One of Israel, they have turned away backward” (Isaiah 1:4).
The consequences of these sins are disastrous (verses 5-15).
Isaiah also sounded further warnings: “Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; who put darkness for light, and light for darkness; who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!” (Isaiah 5:20). Could this not apply to our “Christian nations” that have turned away from inspired biblical values and standards and instead follow humanly devised alternatives?
The moral failure in our nations is evident today. No longer do most people even pretend to adhere to God’s definition of what is right and wrong, but rather view their own ways as more righteous than clear biblical teachings. Are our actions not a reflection of the disastrous time of the judges, when “everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25)? How many will heed the warnings, acknowledge their transgressions and turn to God before calamities overtake them?
The Bible says: “Because I have called and you refused, I have stretched out my hand and no one regarded, because you disdained all my counsel, and would have none of my rebuke, I will also laugh at your calamity; I will mock when your terror comes … like a storm. … Then they will call on me, but I will not answer” (Proverbs 1:24-28).
There is good news coming
The word gospel as used in the Bible is often misunderstood. The English term is translated from the Hebrew basar and the Greek euaggelion, which both basically mean “good news” or “glad tidings.”
The gospel is primarily a message of hope with a positive expectation of the future, not the bleak, doom-and-gloom idea many believe was expressed by God’s prophets like Isaiah.
Was the gospel only preached in the New Testament?
It may surprise some readers that the prophet Isaiah preached the gospel message! Notice Isaiah 40:9: “O Zion, you who bring good tidings [basar], get up into the high mountain; O Jerusalem, you who bring good tidings, lift up your voice with strength, lift it up, be not afraid; say to the cities of Judah, ‘Behold your God!’” (emphasis added throughout).
It is fascinating how terminology found in Isaiah is repeated in certain New Testament scriptures that describe the gospel. For instance, “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who proclaims peace, who brings glad tidings of good things, who proclaims salvation, who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns!’” (Isaiah 52:7).
The apostle Paul quoted this scripture in Romans 10:15-16 and applied the words to the New Testament gospel message: “‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, who bring glad tidings of good things!’ But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, ‘LORD, who has believed our report?’”
This announcement by Paul is one of hope and of peace. It is the good news—the glad tidings—of Christ’s return to directly rule over all nations (Isaiah 2:1-4).
Christ’s first coming fulfilled Isaiah
Now notice further how Jesus Christ quoted from Isaiah as proof that He was in harmony with the gospel message preached by the prophet.
While on a visit to Nazareth, He entered the local synagogue and was asked to read from the book of Isaiah. He cited part of a passage from Isaiah 61:1-3 and then, to the astonishment of those present, He closed the book without completing the reading (see Luke 4:16-21).
Why did He do this?
Jesus Christ’s commission was divided into two parts. His first coming was to fulfill scriptures such as the ones He quoted from Isaiah 61. The part of that passage that He omitted refers to a yet future time when He will set up God’s Kingdom over the whole earth.
Under God’s inspiration, Isaiah pronounced both parts of the gospel message in advance of their fulfillment.
About Jesus Christ the Messiah
Here are a few selected scriptures in Isaiah relating to our Savior and soon-coming King, Jesus Christ—who is the heart and core of the gospel:
- His Kingdom shall prosper and stand forever (2:2-4; 25:6-9; 61:1-11).
- His future rule and government (9:1-7).
- Conditions in the world under His reign (11:1-16; 32:15-20).
- He restrains and binds Satan the devil (14:12-17; compare Revelation 20:1-3).
- Song of confidence in Christ (26:1-9).
- He provides comfort and consolation (40:1-31).
- He is a light to the gentiles (49:6-7).
- Christ’s suffering and death foretold (52:14-15; 53:1-12).
- Former troubles will be forgotten under Christ’s government (65:16-25).
- The Sabbath will be observed in God’s Kingdom (66:23).
Are you ready to receive a reward?
“Behold, the Lord GOD shall come with a strong hand … behold, His reward is with Him” (Isaiah 40:10). This scripture refers to the reward Jesus Christ will bring with Him at His return to give to those who have endeavored to live a life—both in thoughts and actions—that is pleasing to Him. He will reward those who are faithful servants in doing His work (Matthew 24:45-47; 25:14-21).
Notice Revelation 22:12: “And behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to give to every one according to his work.”
For a quick link to all the other books of the Bible, see “Books of the Bible” on the Learning Center.