Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. For behold, darkness will cover the earth and deep darkness the peoples; but the Lord will rise upon you and His glory will appear upon you. Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising. Lift up your eyes round about and see; they all gather together, they come to you. Your sons will come from afar, and your daughters will be carried in the arms (Isaiah 60:1-4).
In context, Isaiah prophesied concerning the restoration of Israel to the land after the exile to Babylon that began in 586 B.C. when Nebuchadnezzar’s armies destroyed Israel and Jerusalem. The Babylonian exile lasted seventy years, after which the people did, in fact, return to rebuild their shattered capital city and their nation, but the fullness of what Isaiah foresaw in these verses never actually came to pass historically. For literal Israel, the level of glory presented in Isaiah never truly unfolded.
The verses that follow these speak of prosperity for Israel and enormous numerical increase. Isaiah’s vision of the future also included foreigners building up Israel’s walls and the nations of the world bringing them wealth, favor, and honor at a level that literal Israel never experienced. In fact, much of what Isaiah prophesied could be truly fulfilled only later, in Jesus, as people from every tribe, tongue, and nation have turned to Israel’s true Messiah.
As is the case with many prophets, Isaiah spoke from “prophetic perspective.” In other words, he saw events covering more than one period of time layered into a single picture, as if each of the pictures were Photoshopped so that every layer could be seen simultaneously with varying degrees of opacity. In that light, we can see that some of what Isaiah saw applied to what happened in the fifth and sixth centuries B.C., while more was blended into a vision that would not be fulfilled for centuries yet to come.
No longer will you have the sun for light by day, nor for brightness will the moon give you light; but you will have the Lord for an everlasting light, and your God for your glory. Your sun will no longer set, nor will your moon wane; for you will have the Lord for an everlasting light, and the days of your mourning will be over (Isaiah 60:19-20).
Obviously, these things did not occur in the years following the exile or at any other time in Israel’s history. Who, then, is our everlasting light and how has this word been fulfilled? Answer: Only in Jesus.
Then all your people will be righteous; they will possess the land forever, the branch of My planting, the work of My hands, that I may be glorified. The smallest one will become a clan, and the least one a mighty nation. I, the Lord, will hasten it in its time (Isaiah 60:21-22).
Only in Jesus, by His sacrifice of His own body on the cross, could all the people of God be made righteous, covered with His goodness imputed to us. He cleansed us and made us holy by His sacrifice for sin. Since then, in Him the number of God’s people has grown to such an extent that they cannot even be counted. These promises were never truly realized in the history of literal Israel.
The pieces of Isaiah’s prophecy that found no fulfillment in literal Israel must be viewed as a last days promise applicable to spiritual Israel, both Jews and Gentiles who have received the King of Kings. These verses convey a message of hope and resounding victory for believers in a darkening age much like ours. In doing so, the promise presents us with two elements that appear to be contradictory—a paradox.
First, deep darkness covers the nations. As dangers increase and society deteriorates, the world situation will appear to be growing worse. Scripture—especially Matthew 24 with its prophecies of lovelessness, lawlessness, persecution of believers, famines, wars, and rumors of wars—cannot be denied.
Second, at the same time Isaiah paints a picture in which God’s chosen ones walk in glorious favor. People from every tribe, tongue, and nation come to know the Lord, join the company of God’s people, and bring their wealth with them. Why? Because of the bright shining of the Lord’s favor upon us, His people. “Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising” (Isa. 6:3). In many parts of the world, such a move of God is now under way. We get to win. Does this mean that we take over the world, the seven mountains, and establish a literal government on earth prior to the return of the Lord? Not according to Isaiah and other passages of Scripture. Does this mean that we affect multitudes from every nation, lead them to the light, and change the very atmosphere around us just by being who we are in the Lord? A resounding yes! Does it mean that we will penetrate every nation on earth and lead people to Jesus for their lives to be transformed?
Even now we see a cultural shift in response to the ministry of the Father’s heart through believers bold enough to reach out. While laws and court cases come against us and the radical left hurls hate and accusation, openness to the ministry of the Spirit on the part of unbelievers has never been greater, at least not in my lifetime. Where once an offer of prayer for a hurting person in the world outside the walls of the church would be met with firm rejection, there is now a hungry, positive response: “Oh yes! Thank you!” Love wins. Light conquers darkness. Hearts are opening.