This reading from Isaiah is an echo of the great Messianic chapter 11 and sets the tone for today’s lesson. New life comes from the Messiah, both now and in the new world to come.
Anyone who reads all 66 chapters of Isaiah straight through has done some heavy lifting, not just because of the size of the book, but because of its poetic style, repetition, and its inability to stay on one topic. If a modern American wrote the book, it would be thee chapters long.
Yet, Handel would have had a hard time writing the Messiah without it. Every Old Testament book points in some way to the coming Messiah, but none do so as powerfully as Isaiah. It is in that sense that we must consider today’s readings.
It is easy to hang up on the apocalyptic nature of both the Isaiah and Luke readings, but Jesus makes it clear that the point is more immediate. They will build houses… plant vineyards, does not sound like my idea of heaven. Isaiah was telling the people of the captivity that they would be able to do that after their return. But he was also using that image to let them know what it would be like in the new life after death in this life. The Bible is always speaking to us on both levels, now and in the future.
Psalm 98 works on the same levels. Sing to the Lord a new song, here and now and again in the new life. The words of the song build, starting with Israel, then to all nations and all creation. When we are lost in sin we do not sing. We search and stumble in the dark. We cry out for help. We do not know God, so we don’t sing. Knowing God is reason to sing.
Paul sends the message in a different way. It is tempting for Christians to let God take care of us. Too many in Thessalonica were doing that in the extreme. They had become burdens on others as they waited for the return of the Messiah. Paul’s message was simple: get to work, he’s not here yet.
Jesus did not often talk about the end of times and when he did, he spoke in general terms. He also mixed near and far events. His statement that no stone will be left on another actually happened less than 40 years later with the Roman destruction of the Temple. In verses 9 & 10, he seems to reach out to the more distant future, but even that is short of the much desired return of the Messiah with its end to sin and suffering.
The key is in verse 9: these things must happen first, but the end will not come right away. These things will happen and happen and happen. All of the things he listed have happened in every century and will likely happen in the current century and many more to come.
The real message is by standing firm you will gain life. That is eternal life beginning after the return of the Messiah.
Be righteous and do good.