Recap of Part I
In Part I of this series, we approached Isaiah 17 comprehensively and established the crucial backstory of the book of Isaiah—the much anticipated arrival of Messiah, the ultimate Seed of the Woman (Gen. 3:15). Buried deep in a chapter that is commonly cited for the complete destruction of Damascus is an end-times prophecy of Israel’s judgment and a gracious escape for a grafted-in, Gentile “branch.”
Recall from Part I that Isaiah 17 and 18 are tied together by consistent harvest imagery, and we stopped at 17:11, the account of the disappearing harvest of Gentiles. In Part II, we will cover 17:12–18:7 (a complete unit all its own) and examine how this section fits into the big picture. Afterwards, we’ll see how the mystery of the disappearing harvest unfolds as the book of Isaiah progresses. Finally, we’ll look at the exciting implications of an early harvest for the body of Messiah, the Church.
A Brief Rundown of 17:12–18:7
In keeping with the theme of our study (the botanical metaphors of Messiah), I cited a key verse in Part I that relates to Isaiah 18 in a major way. I’ll post it again to keep it top of mind:
On that day the root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples. The nations [Gentiles] will seek Him, and His resting place will be glorious (Isa. 11:10, HCSB, emphasis mine).
As the prophecy of 17:12–18:7 progresses, the scene gradually shifts from God’s swift judgment against the nations to an encouraging vision of the Millennial Kingdom, a time when surviving Gentiles who come out of the Tribulation will go up and worship the LORD in Jerusalem (Mt. Zion).
Here’s a brief rundown of Isaiah 17:12–18:7 with commentary:
(1) 17:12-14 – Following the disappearing harvest of 17:11, the world comes unglued in verse 12. The nations rage “like the roaring of the seas,” and biblical parallels abound; e.g. Psalm 2:1-2 and Luke 21:25. See also the Tribulation indicators of Matt. 24:6-7, Lk. 21:9-10, and Rev. 6:3-4. In view of all the terrible judgments that will befall Israel during the Tribulation, verse 14 is a word of consolation for God’s people (cf. Ps. 30:5). The prophet speaks for Israel’s future remnant, when he writes, “…[t]his is the portion of those who loot us, and the lot of those who plunder us“ (ESV).
(2) 18:1-3 – If your Bible has a header before chapter 18 that reads something like “Oracle Against Cush” or “Woe to Ethiopia,” then pretend it’s not there. Those are misleading summaries that don’t account for the details in the text. The exact nation “feared near and far” (v. 2) is not explicitly named, and verse one merely states, “The land…beyond the rivers of Cush.” It does not say “Cush” is the land, specifically.
Whatever the case may be regarding the nation’s identity, all the inhabitants on earth are addressed in this prophetic passage. And so, “the land beyond the rivers of Cush” is a representative sample of all the people who are going to be reached with the gospel even “to the ends of the earth” (cf. Isa. 49:6, 22; 52:7-10; Acts 1:8). Recall Isa. 11:10—The Root of Jesse is the banner raised up and beheld by all at the time “when the trumpet sounds” (v. 3).
*Side note: The “swift messengers” (v. 2) sent to the nation(s) could be interpreted as divine agents sent by Yahweh himself to assist in reaping the harvest. After all, the Hebrew word for “angels” is given here [malachim], and the LXX also has “angels” [Grk. aggelos]. In light of the overall context of an end-of-the-age harvest, it would make sense for these “angels” to be the same as those who accompany Messiah when He returns to the earth (cf. Matt. 13:39, 41-42).
(3) 18:4-7 – The LORD of the harvest finishes His work in the field (cf. Matt. 9:38). This scene is reminiscent of several passages of Scripture that deal with the end-of-the-age harvest. It is both a harvest of judgment (v. 5-6), and a harvest of mercy (v. 7). Based on New Testament revelation, we can equate this scene in Isaiah 18 to the separation of the sheep and the goats (cf. Matt. 25:31-33). Verses 5 and 6 also remind me of passages like Ezekiel 39:4, 17-20 and Revelation 19:17-21. Ezekiel and Isaiah both affirm that it is at this time, the end-of-the-age harvest, that all the world will know that the one true God is the LORD, the Holy One of Israel (Isa. 17:7; 18:3; Ezek. 39:7, 21-23).
Verse 7 previews the Millennial Reign of Christ on earth from His throne in Jerusalem (Mt. Zion). While other passages of Scripture affirm that Gentiles will bring material gifts to the Messiah during the Millennium (see Ps. 68:29; 76:11-12; Isa. 60:5-7, 11; Zeph. 3:10), this text may actually indicate that the people themselves are the gift brought to Mt. Zion and presented to the LORD as an offering.
Here are a few points in support of interpreting human beings as the “gift” brought to Mt. Zion in verse 7:
a. The Masoretic Text reads, “At that time a gift will be brought to the LORD of hosts: a people tall and smooth-skinned…” Your Bible may have “from” in brackets with a footnote: The preposition is found in the second clause but not the first. It’s a tough call on this one, but a scribe may have added the preposition for a smoother reading grammatically.
b. The description of the people in verse 7 is an exact parallel to the description in verse 2. If the “swift messengers” of verse 2 are heavenly angels, then perhaps the angels are the means by which the people of verse 7 are brought to Mt. Zion and presented to the LORD.
This concept of a priestly offering of people selected from the nations is important, and we’ll revisit this later. There is a partial fulfillment of passages like Isa. 18:7; 56:6-7; 66:20-21 that the apostle Paul speaks of in reference to this current Church age.
Isaiah 17–18: A Thematic Review of the LORD’s End-Time Harvest
Before we move on from these two chapters, I’ll recap and summarize the picture that has developed so far from this study. Overall, a major theme has surfaced that binds these two chapters together: The final, end-time harvest. And the rest of the biblical record confirms that the LORD has appointed a time for an early and late harvest, each in their own order (Church, Israel, Nations).
Like storyboards drawn up before the actors perform the script live on set, Isaiah provides a few screenshots of the last days harvest in chapters 17–18:
Opening Scene: The Aftermath (17:1-9): A panoramic view of the fallout from the Tribulation, when the survivors give glory to the Holy One of Israel.
Scene Two: The Flashback (17:10): The backstory and reason for God’s extreme judgment on His people—Israel has rejected her Rock; therefore, the Gentiles will be grafted in and harvested first.
Scene Three: The Turning Point (17:11): Once incorporated and merged with the messianic “Seed,” the Gentiles grow to full maturity with the help of their Root. On the day of judgment, Israel suffers as the Early Harvest disappears.
Scene Four: The Flood of the End (17:12-14): With God’s restraining influence removed, the nations churn and rage until the Holy One of Israel makes a quick end to worldwide chaos and rebellion. Jacob’s Trouble is terrifying but over soon. It is likened to a passing storm in the night, and then the morning of the Messiah’s kingdom arrives.
Closing Scene: The Root of Jesse Returns to Rule (18:1-7): The Messiah, Root and Offspring of David, comes to earth along with His heavenly hosts. It is the appointed time of the Late Harvest, and it is time to separate the sheep from the goats. Survivors from the nations will be presented as an offering to the LORD who rules from Jerusalem over all the earth.
These two action-packed chapters in Isaiah, while only a thumbnail sketch within the grand story of the Scriptures, confirm the well-established pattern and sequence of major end-time events: We have the Resurrection and Rapture of the Church in 17:11 (Early Harvest), followed by the Time of Jacob’s Trouble in 17:12-14 (Remnant Saved), and the end of the Tribulation/start of Millennial Reign in 18:1-7 (Late Harvest).
Given that most of you taking the time to read this are a members of the body of Christ and “strange branches” attached to the true Vine and messianic Seed, I figure you might want to know if the curious case of the disappearing harvest crops up elsewhere in the book of Isaiah.
Let’s see if we can piece together the rest of the story…
The Disappearing Early Harvest Crops Up Again
First, a reminder: Throughout the Bible Israel/Zion is referred to as a “woman” and often associated with “the land,” or “the earth” (in contrast, the Gentiles/nations are “the sea”). This is important to grasp, because as we piece together the story of the disappearing early harvest in Isaiah, we should also take note of the tight-knit connection between Israel and the Church.
*I cover the continuity and discontinuity of the Israel/Church relationship in a previous post entitled “Birthday-Breakaway.”
As we go through the following passages, notice how the metaphors merge and blend together to the extent that the “woman/land” will be described as both “giving birth” and “producing a harvest.” The term “seed” [Heb. zera; Grk. sperma], whether explicitly stated or implied, is the common denominator throughout these verses. The reason is that “seed” can poetically describe both human offspring and plant life. When the “seed” is fully mature, the result is a two-fold resurrection/glorification metaphor: A “birth” from the womb and a “springing up” from the ground.
Here are the key pieces of Isaiah’s early harvest puzzle in order of appearance:
Piece #1: The Seed Sprouts, and the Harvest Vanishes (Isa. 17:11)
On that day you [Israel] will help your plant to grow, and in the morning you will help your seed to sprout up, but the harvest will disappear on that day of disease and incurable pain” (translation mine).
Piece #2: The Resurrection/Harvest of the Dead Goes into Hiding (Isa. 26:19-20)
Your dead will come back to life; your corpses will rise up. Wake up and shout joyfully, you who live in the ground! For you will grow like plants drenched with the morning dew, and the earth will bring forth its dead spirits. Go, my people! Enter your inner rooms! Close your doors behind you! Hide for a little while, until his angry judgment is over!” (NET).
Piece #3: The Messiah’s Resurrection (Firstfruits) and His Seed to Follow (Isa. 53:10-12)
…When You make Him a restitution offering, He will see His seed, He will prolong His days, and by His hand, the LORD’s pleasure will be accomplished. He will see [light] out of His anguish, and He will be satisfied with His knowledge. My righteous Servant will justify many, and He will carry their iniquities. Therefore I will give Him the many as a portion, and He will receive the mighty as spoil because He submitted Himself to death…” (HCSB, brackets based on the Dead Sea Scrolls + LXX).
Piece #4: The Birth of the Son (Male) Before Israel’s Labor/Tribulation (Isa. 66:7-8)
Before she was in labor, she gave birth; before her pain came, she delivered a male child. Who has heard such a thing? Who has seen such things? Shall the earth be made to give birth in one day? Or shall a nation be born at once?” (NKJV).
In all four pieces of the puzzle, we see a birth/resurrection of the Messiah and/or His Seed (Body). Piece #’s 1, 2, and 4 all refer to the same event: The Pre-Tribulation Resurrection and Rapture of the Church. Piece #3 is the essential first phase: The Messiah’s “birth” from the earth (resurrection) and the assured promise of a dynasty (seed/offspring). New Testament revelation further develops these resurrection metaphors by referring to Messiah as “the firstborn from the dead” (Col. 1:18; Rev. 1:5) and “the firsfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Cor. 15:20).
Further revelation from the standpoint of Isaiah certainly helps to fill in the gaps and complete the picture of the disappearing early harvest. Yet even without the New Testament, you could still preach and teach the Pre-Tribulation Resurrection and Rapture of the Church with evidence from Isaiah alone!
The Presentation at Pentecost (A Gift from our Great High Priest)
Now that we have covered Isaiah 17–18 and pieced together the story of the disappearing early harvest, let’s conclude this study by revisiting a concept touched on earlier in our discussion of Isaiah 18:7. Though this verse refers to an offering of Gentiles brought to the LORD at the end of the Tribulation and start of the Millennial Reign, there is a partial fulfillment taking place during this current Church age.
The apostle Paul connects the dots for us in Romans 15:15-18:
Nevertheless, I have written to remind you more boldly on some points because of the grace given me by God to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles, serving as a priest of God’s good news. My purpose is that the offering of the Gentiles may be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit. Therefore I have reason to boast in Christ Jesus regarding what pertains to God. For I would not dare say anything except what Christ has accomplished through me to make the Gentiles obedient by word and deed” (HCSB, emphasis mine).
Keep in mind that Paul gives credit where credit is due. He boasts in Christ Jesus for His work through him to sanctify an acceptable offering of Gentiles. The apostle’s language reveals his deep knowledge of the Torah and all the “shadows” of the Levitical laws that point forward to Christ and the fulfillment of Yahweh’s appointed feasts (Lev. 23; cf. Col. 2:16-17).
The down payment of the Spirit was given at Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4) and is still being given to the body of Christ at the present time (Eph. 1:14; 2 Cor. 1:22), but soon the Lord Jesus, our great High Priest, will make good on that guarantee and gather up the whole harvest in order to bring the fully-glorified body back to the Father as an acceptable offering (Jn. 14:1-3).
At the time of the Revelation 12 sign last September, I thought the Feast of Trumpets (Yahweh’s 5th feast day) was a sure-fire lock for the Resurrection and Rapture of the Church, and I know that I wasn’t alone in this assumption. There were solid reasons for believing Trumpets to be the time of the Rapture.
That dreaded feeling of confusion and disequilibrium after September ended, though unpleasant as it was, did lead to even greater discoveries to the learners and humble seekers who did not give up. Some were convinced way before the sign came to pass that Pentecost was the ideal feast day for the consummation of the Church (I’m looking at you, Greg Lauer!). And now that I’ve gone through this study in Isaiah, I’m leaning more and more to the promising possibility of Pentecost.
So, my next question is: When, or at what season, will the complete body of Christ be presented before the LORD as an acceptable offering?
Well, if the LORD continues to operate based on His own harvest calendar, then we need to take a look at a couple of passages in the Torah that relate to the offering and presentation of the firstborn male.
First, Exodus 23:14-17:
Three times in the year you shall keep a feast to me. You shall keep the Feast of Unleavened Bread…none shall appear before me empty-handed. You shall keep the Feast of Harvest [Pentecost], of the firstfruits of your labor, of what you sow in the field. You shall keep the Feast of Ingathering at the end of the year…[t]hree times in the year all your males appear before the Lord GOD” (ESV).
Second, for emphasis, Deuteronomy 16:16:
Every male [Heb. zakur] must appear in the presence of the LORD your God three times a year at the place where he will choose: for the Festival of Unleavened Bread, the Festival of Seven Weeks [Pentecost], and the Festival of Tents [Tabernacles]. He must not appear in the LORD’s presence empty-handed” (ISV, emphasis and bracketed explanations mine).
I chose the ISV translation for the passage in Deuteronomy, because it is the only one I could find that translates “male” as it is literally written in the text (as a singular noun). The term zakur [male] in Exodus 23:17and Deut. 16:16 is very closely related to zakar [male], the word used for the male-child of Isaiah 66:7 (cf. Rev. 12:5). Thus, the kinship between zakur of the previously cited passages in the Torah and zakar of Isaiah 66:7 give rise to some exciting possibilities.
If the male is to appear before the LORD three times a year (Passover/Unleavened Bread, Pentecost, and Tabernacles), then that helps to narrow the time-frame. Jesus, the firstfruits of a greater harvest to come, has already presented himself at God’s temple in Jerusalem at the Triumphal Entry (Jn. 12:12-14). The next appointment for the presentation of a male would be Pentecost.
And since there is currently no fully-functioning temple in Jerusalem sanctioned by God, the male of Isa. 66:7(the early harvest) will be presented to the LORD at His temple in heaven (cf. Isa. 26:20; Jn. 14:1-3; Rev. 12:5). In fact, according to Isaiah 66:6, it’s from the temple in heaven that the voice of the LORD gives the go-ahead for the male to be delivered and caught up to His throne. After the birth [complete salvation] of the male and his swift removal, then Israel goes into Tribulation and bears the rest of her children later on (cf. Isa. 66:7-8).
The final time the male is presented is at the Feast of Tabernacles, which will ultimately take place at the end of the Tribulation, when Christ and His body will come back and reign triumphant from the Jerusalem on earth.
But wait, there’s more…
You shall bring in from your dwelling places two loaves of bread for a wave offering, made of two-tenths of an ephah; they shall be of fine flour, baked with leaven as first fruits to the LORD…[t]he priest shall then wave them with the bread of the first fruits for a wave offering with two lambs before the LORD; they are to be holy to the LORD for the priest…[w]hen you reap the harvest of your land, moreover, you shall not reap to the very corners of your field nor gather the gleaning of your harvest; you are to leave them for the needy and the alien. I am the LORD your God” (NASB, emphasis mine).
It has been well-documented by others that the Feast of Pentecost depicts the merger of both Jew and Gentile in one body (“two loaves” + “baked with leaven”). We know from Acts 2 that the Spirit was given on Pentecost, establishing the conception of the Church, and fulfilled, at least in part, the requirements for the 4th feast. However, if Pentecost AD 33 was just a partial fulfillment, then we could potentially witness total fulfillment and the actual “birth” of the Church coming up on the very same day the down payment was given.
In the description from Leviticus given above, the high priest is to present the offering of the bread representing a Jew and Gentile body and the reapers are told not to harvest the whole land. Unique to Pentecost are the specific instructions to leave gleanings for “the needy” and “the foreigner.”
Interesting. Now think back to our study of Isaiah 17–18 and the story of the disappearing early harvest. Remember the Early Harvest is reaped and disappears before the devastating judgments of the Tribulation ensue. Only gleanings are left by the time the Late Harvest comes (cf. Isa. 17:4-6). Doesn’t this description sound like a Left Behind scenario?
Wow! This makes for a truly compelling sign and witness to the world: The birth and presentation of the male-child on Pentecost at the same time a hardened Israel celebrates the old covenant given at Mt. Sinai:
For you have not come to what may be touched [Mt. Sinai], a blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest and the sound of a trumpet and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that no further messages be spoken to them. For they could not endure the order that was given, ‘If even a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned.’ Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, ‘I tremble with fear.’ But you have come to Mt. Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly [Church] of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel” (Hebrews 12:18-24, ESV, bracketed explanation and emphasis mine).
Pentecost could be the day when Hebrews 2:11-13 is totally fulfilled:
For both He who sanctifies and those who are being sanctified are all of one, for which reason He [Jesus] is not ashamed to call them brethren, saying, ‘I will declare Your name to My brethren; In the midst of the assembly [Church] I will sing praise to You.’ And again: ‘I will put My trust in Him.’ And again: ‘Here am I and the children whom God has given Me” (NKJV, bracketed explanation and emphasis mine).
Yes, Pentecost could be the day, when our Great High Priest returns to the Father, not empty-handed (Deut. 16:16), but with the early harvest in tow. In the midst of the assembly [the newly glorified Church], He will say, “Here I am with the children God gave me.” And afterwards, we will sing a new song back to Him:
But one of the elders said to me, ‘Do not weep. Behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has prevailed to open the scroll and to loose its seven seals.’ And I looked, and behold, in the midst of the throne and of the four living creatures, and in the midst of the elders, stood the Lamb as though it had been slain…[a]nd they sang a new song, saying: ‘You are worthy to take the scroll, and to open its seals; For You were slain, and have redeemed us to God by Your blood out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation, and have made us kings and priests to our God; and we shall reign on the earth” (Revelation 5:5-6, 9-10, NKJV, emphasis mine). (Click to Source)
Hallelujah, amen! Come, Lord Jesus!
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