Interpreting Old Testament prophets is not always an easy task. The passage in Isaiah 61 has challenges for interpretation. The reason for the challenges is that it is difficult to assign a place and a time for fulfillment.
Theologians have a wide variety of interpretations.
Some interpret this passage as speaking about rebuilding the ancient ruins (v. 4) in Jerusalem after the return from Babylonian captivity. Others say it describes building Jerusalem in the end times. While yet others interpret the rebuilding, not as a literal construction restoration, but as a metaphor for rebuilding the ruin of sin in the world.
In verses five through seven, some theologians interpret the passage as the end times, when the Jews come to know Christ, and the other nations will labor as they minister. The Jews are treated specially as God’s people. In contrast to that view, another theologian interprets the same verses as speaking about Christians and uses Peter’s letter, which speaks of believers as being a royal priesthood (1 Peter 2:9), as justification for the interpretation.
The last two verses are also in question. Some theologians interpret the person speaking as Jesus. They supply ample reason for us to think that it is indeed the Messiah who is speaking in the first person. But, several other theologians interpret the verses as not being the Messiah, but rather, collective Zion speaking in the first person, giving praise to God for salvation.
The most important principle we may apply is that we connect verses 4-11 with the first three verses of the chapter. The first three verses speak about the mission of Jesus. Jesus is anointed and sent by God, to proclaim the gospel, set free the captives, comfort the mourning, and establish God’s people as “oaks of righteousness” (Isaiah 61:3).
The pronouns of verses 4-9, “they, their, your, and you” are God’s people to whom Jesus is sent. They are the oaks of righteousness in verse 3. The verses tell what happens as a result of Jesus’ intervention.
Our interpretation of these verses needs to align with the work of Jesus’ salvation. These verses describe what it means to be an oak of righteousness. The verses speak of the practical outpouring of Jesus’ work of salvation.
The main idea in verses 4-11 of chapter 61 is that we are to produce the fruit of righteousness, praising God for His salvation in Christ. The work of Christ is to transform and restore God’s creation. He is sent to bring righteousness and praise among God’s elect.
Jesus is sent to us. He intervenes in our life and establishes us as oaks of righteousness. We are to produce the fruit of righteousness as a result of Jesus being sent.
The passage begins with speaking about salvation’s work of restoration.
Notice the contrasting words in this verse: rebuild, raise-up, and repair contrast ruins, devastations, and desolations. Jesus fixes God’s creation and God’s people are like Him; they work to fix that which is destroyed.
Perhaps the passage is talking about God’s people rebuilding actual buildings. Or, perhaps the passage is speaking metaphorically about repairing generations of sin’s damage. The point is that God’s people rebuild ruins. They raise up that which is devastated. And, they repair that which is ruined and desolate.
God’s people work to restore. The question we can ask ourselves is, “am I a restorer?” When we have the Spirit of God, we are not people who tear down or destroy. We are not a people set upon making ruins. Instead, we are “fixer-uppers.”
We can apply the principle of restoration to many areas of life. We can be peacemakers, seeking to restore relationships which are damaged by sin. We can help bring reconciliation by applying the healing truth of God’s word in marriages, work relationships, and families. Are you actively seeking to restore people?
Another way we can apply this principle is to help restore the fabric of society. As natural disasters tear down buildings, Christians mobilize to rebuild that which is ruined. When families lose their homes from fire, Christians can help restore their home and all that is lost from the fire.
There are many ways we can be a solution to the devastation and ruin which happens in this world. Are you actively participating in works of restoration? Do others see you as someone who tears down or someone who builds up.
We need to seek to be workers of restoration for the glory of Christ.
Another work of salvation is that of being priests and ministers among the nations. The role of the priest and minister is to be a mediator between God and people. We are priests and ministers when we point people to God.
Since this passage is speaking about after Christ’s work on the cross, it is speaking about the work of New Testament priests. Our priesthood is to prays for others and minister the word of God with discipleship. All of God’s people are called to be ambassadors with the ministry of reconciling people with God (2 Corinthians 5:20).
The principle is that God’s people help others have a right relationship with God. The role of priests and ministers is to be a mediator between God and people, pointing people to Christ.
Let’s ask ourselves a few questions. Am I a mediator for God in this world? Do I help people get right before God? Do I help people with their sanctification? Am I lifting prayers as incense before God’s throne? Do others know that I am a representative of God, and they can come to me to ask questions about the Bible and salvation? Am I growing in my ministry as a minister of the word of God? And, am I a mature or immature mediator?”
Seek to be a priest and minister of God for the glory of Christ.
God’s people have a great inheritance. We are not to be ashamed or have humiliation in being a Christian. We are given all the blessings of heaven in Christ (Ephesians 1:3). We are given God’s Holy Spirit as a down payment to our heavenly inheritance (Ephesians 1:14).
Christians are the wealthiest people on earth. It is God’s good pleasure to give us His kingdom (Luke 12:32).
The principle of this verse is that salvation in Christ gives us all we need for life. We lack nothing. If we believe we lack nothing but inherit the Kingdom, how should we live? We are to live as children of the kingdom.
When we live as those who have a great inheritance, we don’t seek material wealth for our joy. We find joy in the riches given to us by God. We have everlasting joy, and we don’t look for more joy through possessions.
Let’s ask ourselves if we live and speak as those who are rich in Christ. Do we speak more about our next acquisition then we do our inheritance in Christ? Do we value the blessings of grace, mercy, and forgiveness more than things of this world? Do we speak about the treasure of our heart with joy? Do others hear about our rich inheritance, or do they hear more about our new gadget or what we got on sale? Out of the abundance of the heart, our mouth will speak.
Seek to be among those who frequently speaks about the riches of salvation. We are to find our joy in the riches of Christ much more than our trips to the market. Rejoice in the inheritance of salvation for the glory of Christ.
The Lord God loves justice. God hates corruption. He hates it when the downcast, and weak are treated unfairly or go without provision. Isaiah often speaks about caring for the poor, helping the widows, and being generous.
Those who have salvation in Christ are in an everlasting covenant with God. Our covenant is a covenant of love. As recipients of God’s covenant of love, we are to be loving and generous. The terms of the covenant are that God loves us, and we are to love God and others.
The principle we need to apply is that our lives ought to demonstrate that we participate in the covenant. We adhere and fulfill the requirements of the covenant with love. We demonstrate the covenant with grace and mercy. We forgive. We love justice as God loves justice. We are generous with our offerings and not storing up treasures on earth. God promises that when we are generous, He will faithfully repay our generosity.
Does our life reflect that we are in an everlasting covenant with the God of the universe? Do others see us as loving? Do we love justice? Do we rob God in our offerings? Do we give generously to those in need? Do we faithfully support the church and the ministry of the gospel?
Live in the covenant of salvation by being loving people who are in a right relationship with God.
God’s people have a reputation of being saved by God. We are recognized as Christians. People know us by the reputation of being saved.
The principle of this verse is that God’s people stand out as being God’s people. God’s people are holy as God is holy. Holiness means that we are set apart for God. We are cleansed from the filth of the world. We are blessed because we are unstained by the filth of culture.
There are many ways to have a reputation as a Christian. Our speech is not filled with coarse language and crude humor. We don’t participate in lewdness. We are not known for being drunkards. The fruit of the Spirit is evidenced because we are loving, patient, peace, and goodness. We are slow to anger.
The church is to have a reputation of being a pillar and foundation of truth. As members of the church, our life is to be full of truth and integrity. We seek to live by God’s holy word.
The qualifications for an officer in the church is that they are to have a good reputation. Someone with a good reputation is a good worker. They are above reproach in their business dealings.
What is our reputation? Can people tell from our Facebook posts that we love holiness? Are we posting political words of division or are we telling of healing in Christ? Do our neighbors know us as being kind? Is our speech pure? Does our character show love or anger? Are we generous? Do others know us as being blessed and set apart as a servant of God?
Endeavor to have a reputation as being a mature believer in Christ, saved by grace, demonstrating the fruit of the Spirit, for the glory of Christ.
When studying the New Testament, we find many verses which use the metaphor of putting off our old self, and put-on the new-self. The New Testament uses the metaphor of clothing and garments. The metaphor even goes so far as to say that we have “put on Christ,” like a garment (Galatians 3:27).
Those who are in Christ are told to put on the new self, which is being renewed after the image of God (Colossians 3:10). The new self is created in righteousness and holiness (Ephesians 4:24). The Apostle Paul tells us to put on the armor of God in Ephesians chapter five.
The New Testament metaphors are founded in the Old Testament. Isaiah 61:10 is among the passages using the metaphor of clothing to describe our life in Christ. We are adorned with righteousness and salvation.
The writers of Scripture do not intend for us to think abstractly. The Holy Spirit has in mind practical outcomes when we are to think of ourselves as being clothed in righteousness and salvation.
For example, Paul tells the Colossians (Colossians 3:9-14) to put off the deeds of sin, and put on compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. We are to put on love. Putting on salvation and righteousness is about putting on Christlike character.
People who are decked out, such as with a garland or jewels, find honor in their apparel. It is not drudgery. We ought not to keep our salvation and righteousness in a garment bag in the closet. Our garment of salvation does not wear out.
The principle we need to see from this passage is that there is much joy from putting on salvation and righteousness. In other words, adorning ourselves is not to be a duty or chore.
The questions we need to ask ourselves need to go to the heart of our willingness to adorn ourselves with the beauty of salvation. Do we enjoy putting on righteousness, or is it a duty? Do we desire to show others the beautiful garments Christ gives us? Do we only wear our garments on Sunday or when we are around others who are Christians? Are we willing to wear our garland and jewels to work or the marketplace?
We need to encourage each other to dress up in holiness and righteousness. When we see others wearing salvation and righteousness, we need to commend them for what Christ has done. It is good to compliment salvation. When we see others being honest, kind, loving, patient, or humble, let’s help them know that we can see the work of Christ in their life. We do this, not because of anything they do, but because of what Christ does.
Wear the garments of salvation and righteousness with joy, giving God the glory. Exalt Him with praise. The price of our garland and jewels is very costly. Jesus purchases them with His blood. He gives His life, so we find honor.
This verse serves as a bookend to verse three of the chapter. God intends to bring about righteousness to come forth. The metaphor here is similar to what Isaiah talks about in Isaiah 55. Verses 10-11 of Isaiah 55 talk about rain and snow coming down heaven. As they do, they bring forth fruit in the earth.
In the same way, God’s sends His Son, the Word of God, from heaven. In the same way, that rain from heaven produces successful change and brings forth fruit; Jesus accomplishes the purpose for which He is sent. Jesus establishes oaks of righteousness.
Hearing and knowing Jesus Christ has an impact on life. When Jesus is sent to our life, how we think, speak, and live will be different. David Platt, in his book “Follow Me,” describes the impact of Jesus like being hit by a Mack truck on the freeway. You don’t show up someplace an hour later, brushing yourself off, and say, “Sorry I am late; I was hit by a Mack truck on I91.”
In other words, people who Jesus impacts are not the same person they were beforehand. When Jesus is sent to our life, we are born again. We are made new creatures in Christ.
As we look around our culture, we hear many people say who call themselves Christians. Yet, they look no different than the rest of the world. Their outlook on life is much the same as the people in the world that don’t believe the Gospel. They think, speak, and act the same as others who have not been hit by the Gospel Mack truck.
Isaiah 61:11 says, the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise. The name “Lord God” in Isaiah always speaks of Sovereign God. The same God who spins the stars will make sure that righteousness and praise will spring up before all the nations.
I see the fruit of righteousness in many people in our church. I hear the words of praise, giving glory to God for His saving grace. It is a joy to minister among people who enjoy Jesus.
As we mature in our faith, let’s seek to excel even more. Let’s produce the fruit of righteousness. Let’s grow and mature into being the strong and mighty oaks of righteousness.
Let’s show others in our life that Jesus is sent to us.