The Epistle to the Romans: The Isaiah 60 of the New Testament

This is the reason why I have so often been hindered from coming to you. But now, since I no longer have any room for work in these regions, and since I have longed for many years to come to you, I hope to see you in passing as I go to Spain, and to be helped on my journey there by you, once I have enjoyed your company for a while. At present, however, I am going to Jerusalem bringing aid to the saints. For Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make some contribution for the poor among the saints at Jerusalem. For they were pleased to do it, and indeed they owe it to them. For if the Gentiles have come to share in their spiritual blessings, they ought also to be of service to them in material blessings. When therefore I have completed this and have delivered to them what has been collected, I will leave for Spain by way of you. I know that when I come to you I will come in the fullness of the blessing of Christ (Rm. 15:22-29).

Though it may seem unclear on the surface of our present text, the entire Epistle to the Romans has been building up to this point. For the apostle Paul has at this point concluded the purpose of his letter, which was declared in v. 1:5, viz. “To bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of [Christ’s] name among all the nations.” For he brackets his entire letter by this objective, stating again in v. 15:18, 19, “For I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me to bring the Gentiles to obedience–by word and deed, by the power of signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God.” Everything in his letter can be traced to this purpose, and it is a purpose that is founded in a passage written by the prophet Isaiah concerning the End of all things.

The apostle highlights the underlying purpose of his writing by his desire to go to Spain to preach the Gospel. While it may not seem like much on the surface, his desire particularly to go to Spain is interesting one. For, why did he not make his objective the land of the Gauls (France) or even Britain, since the Roman Empire extended as far as these places and were by distance farther away? That reason, I believe, is because Spain housed a city of prophetic renown, namely Tarshish. You may remember Tarshish from the narrative of Jonah, where he sought to flee the calling of the Lord. Tarshish was not an arbitrary choice by the prophet, for the city was the symbolic end of the world, and Jonah’s desire was to go as far away from the land of the God of Israel as possible.

And references to Tarshish are not found merely in the narrative of Jonah, but they are scattered throughout the prophetic literature of the Bible. One reference that is particularly striking is that in Isaiah 60, and I believe that this prophecy is the basis of Paul’s entire epistle to the Romans.

This prophecy of Isaiah concerns the End of all things, when Israel will be glorified and will be established forever. The prophecy begins by speaking about the “great darkness” that has covered the earth until the time of Christ, and it speaks of the removal of that darkness by the light of the Gospel. I personally believe that this is tantamount to the binding of Satan in Revelation 20:1-3 (yes, I am Amillennial), where the god of this world who was once free to blind the whole world is now bound so that “he might not deceive the nations any longer” (Rev. 20:3; cf. 2Cor. 4:4). At this point, the prophet begins:

Arise, shine, for your light has come,
….and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.
For behold, darkness shall cover the earth,
….and thick darkness the peoples;
but the Lord will arise upon you,
….and his glory will be seen upon you.
And nations shall come to your light,
….and kings to the brightness of your rising
(Is. 60:1-3).

I do not believe that this is a literal coming to the land of Israel, but a spiritual coming to the Messiah of Israel, who has decreed before the foundation of the world that he himself would arise in glory among the Jews and would set himself up to be the New Temple, so that those who worship God would no longer worship him geographically, as Christ told the Samaritan woman in John 4, but they would worship him in Spirit and in truth. For the apostle intimates as much in Rm. 15:8-12 where he speaks of Christ coming to the Jews in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy.

The prophet continues in this vein:

Lift up your eyes all around, and see;
….they all gather together, they come to you;
your sons shall come from afar,
….and your daughters shall be carried on the hip (cf. Rm. 9:6-8).
Then you shall see and be radiant;
….your heart shall thrill and exult,
because the abundance of the sea shall be turned to you,
….the wealth of the nations shall come to you.
A multitude of camels shall cover you,
….the young camels of Midian and Ephah;
….all those from Sheba shall come.
They shall bring gold and frankincense,
….and shall bring good news, the praises of the Lord.
All the flocks of Kedar shall be gathered to you;
….the rams of Nebaioth shall minister to you;
they shall come up with acceptance on my altar,
….and I will beautify my beautiful house (vv. 60:4-7).

An interesting statement in this section is, “Your sons shall come from afar,” intimating that sons of Israel will come from the Gentiles. The apostle declares as much in Rm. 9:6-8, where he declares that it is not the children of the flesh of Abraham who are the children of God, but the children of the promise who are counted as offspring. Indeed, elsewhere the apostle calls the church (i.e. those who have been called to adoption as sons through Christ from all the nations), the “Israel of God” (Gal. 6:16).

Also, these sons who come from afar come to God’s altar with acceptance (Is. 60:7). The apostle picks up this language in our present section, writing, “[I am] a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles in the priestly service of the gospel of God, so that the offering of the Gentiles may be acceptable, sanctified (made holy) by the Holy Spirit” (v. 15:16). And these sons do not come to the altar bearing bulls and goats, but they come bearing gold and frankincense (the same gifts presented to Christ by the magi who came from afar), and they come with good news (i.e. Gospel) and the praises of the Lord. And these things make their worship acceptable to the Lord.

The prophet continues:

Who are these that fly like a cloud,
….and like doves to their windows?
For the coastlands shall hope for me,
….the ships of Tarshish first,
to bring your children from afar,
….their silver and gold with them,
for the name of the Lord your God,
….and for the Holy One of Israel,
….because he has made you beautiful (vv. 60:8,9).

Here we see Paul’s reference to Spain in Tarshish, for it is Tarshish that is said in the prophecy to come first to the glorified Israel. Whether or not Paul viewed this literally or not is difficult to surmise, but he was certainly on mission to bring it about. Perhaps it is for this reason that Paul never made it to Spain by the will of God, so that he would, like Moses, be halted a step away from the shadow of the reality of the Coming Kingdom.

Later in the prophecy, Isaiah declares concerning the nature of Israel’s Kingdom:

Whereas you have been forsaken and hated,
….with no one passing through,
I will make you majestic forever,
….a joy from age to age.
You shall suck the milk of nations;
….you shall nurse at the breast of kings;
and you shall know that I, the Lord, am your Savior
….and your Redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob (vv. 60:15,16).

In this text, it is made clear that the Kingdom of which the prophet is writing is an eschatological and eternal Kingdom. He declares that Israel will no longer be forsaken and hated, but that she will be made majestic forever and a joy for eternity. And she will be filled with the wealth of the Nations forever, and by it know that the Lord is her Savior and Redeemer. This declaration directly parallels the eschatological declarations of the apostle in Romans 11.

And then the prophet declares what is, I believe, the very heart of the Epistle to the Romans:

Instead of bronze I will bring gold,
….and instead of iron I will bring silver;
instead of wood, bronze,
….instead of stones, iron.
I will make your overseers peace
….your taskmasters righteousness
Violence shall no more be heard in your land,
….devastation or destruction within your borders;
you shall call your walls Salvation,
….and your gates Praise.

The sun shall be no more
….your light by day,
nor for brightness shall the moon
….give you light;
but the Lord will be your everlasting light,
….and your God will be your glory.
Your sun shall no more go down,
….nor your moon withdraw itself;
for the Lord will be your everlasting light,
….and your days of mourning shall be ended
Your people shall all be righteous;
….they shall possess the land forever,
the branch of my planting, the work of my hands,
….that I might be glorified (vv. 60:17-21).

I have heard it said many times that the Epistle to the Romans is divided into two sections–the doctrinal section (chapters 1-11) and the practical section (chapters 12-16). However, though I do not disagree with this entirely, I believe the Epistle to the Romans is more accurately divided into sections on righteousness, the Promise of redemption, and peace. And these three sections are all contained within the declarations of Isaiah 60. Allow me to demonstrate this:

The first eight chapters deal clearly with the work of Christ for the righteousness of his people. This mirrors the declaration from Isaiah 60:17 that the Lord will make righteousness his people’s taskmasters. After his introduction to the Roman church, the apostle demonstrates his purpose, writing, “For I am not ashamed of the Gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith‘” (vv. 1:16,17). The apostle continues in vv. 1:18-3:20 demonstrating that the greatest problem for humanity is unrighteousness and the separation from God it affords.

However, the apostle introduces Christ as the remedy for unrighteousness, writing, “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the law and the prophets bear witness to it, the righteousness of God through the faith of Jesus Christ for all who believe” (vv. 3:21,22). From this point, the apostle builds upon what the work of Christ has accomplished in vv. 3:21-8:17 for the sake of the righteousness of his people. Roughly speaking, chapter three deals with the righteous state afforded by Christ for those who believe; chapter four deals with the truth that righteousness has always come through faith from the very beginning with Abraham; chapter five deals with the peace with God that justification (i.e. righteous-ification) the work of Christ affords and the contrast between the unrighteous work of Adam and the righteous work of Christ, the second Adam; chapter six deals with baptism (i.e. identification in Christ’s death and resurrection) and how baptism has made it so that we who are in Christ are made to be slaves of righteousness; chapter seven deals initially with the Christian’s release from slavery to the law and sin to the slavery of the new (righteous) way of the Spirit (vv. 1-6) and ends with the demonstration of the inability of those who are in the flesh to fulfill the righteous requirement of the law; chapter eight ends the section on righteousness with the glorious work of the Godhead for the sake of righteousness:

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done, what the law weakened by the flesh could not do, by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit (vv. 8:1-4).

For this reason, it is of little surprise that chapters one through eight contain at least fifty-five references to righteousness or justification (which in the Greek is from the same root as “righteous”) and the rest of the epistle only contains nine such references.

The second section of the epistle deals with the eschatological Promise of redemption. It begins in v. 8:18 and ends in v. 11:36. The latter part of chapter eight deals with the redemption of the creation of which Isaiah 60:19-22 also speaks. Chapter nine deals with the nature of the Promise given to Abraham, articulating that the Promise was not given according to the flesh (viz. physical Israel), but it is based upon God who has mercy on all peoples. Chapter ten deals with Israel’s unwillingness to submit to the Righteousness that comes from God, and chapter eleven deals with the eschatological promise that Israel will be restored (the very subject of Isaiah 60), with God having “cosigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all (v. 11:32; cf. Is. 60:10).

The third section of the epistle deals with peace that the church is to exhibit to the world, thereby being a light unto the eschatological peace seen in Isaiah 60:17, 18. This section begins in v. 12:1 and ends in v. 15:7. In this section, the apostle exhorts the church to, by its practices, be at peace with itself though self-sacrifice (vv. 12:1-13), with those who persecute the church (vv. 12:14-21), with the governing authorities of the world (vv. 13:1-7); by practicing love for one another (vv. 13:8-14), by not quarreling over opinions and passing judgment (vv. 14:1-23), and, finally, by following the example of Christ (vv. 15:1-7). All these things are done with the purpose of pursuing that which “makes for peace and for mutual upbringing” (v. 14:19) for the end of living “in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together [we] may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (v. 15:6). For this is also the end of the redemption of Isaiah 60, that the walls of the Israel of God shall be called Salvation and her gates one voice of Praise unto the Lord of glory (v. 60:18).

This was a merely a brief overview between the connection of the Epistle to the Romans to Isaiah 60, and I am sure that there is much more to be gathered between these two sections of Holy Scripture. May we all be encouraged to pursue righteousness and peace looking upon the Promise of Redemption.

He will render to each one according to his works. To those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. But for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. There will be tribulation and distress of every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. For God shows no partiality (Rm. 2:6-11).

Categories: Fridy Night Bible Study

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