May 9, 2021
“The sinners in Zion are afraid; trembling seizes the ungodly: ‘Who among us can dwell with a consuming fire? Who among us can dwell with everlasting flames?’ The one who lives righteously..."
“The sinners in Zion are afraid; trembling seizes the ungodly: ‘Who among us can dwell with a consuming fire? Who among us can dwell with everlasting flames?’ The one who lives righteously and speaks rightly, who refuses gain from extortion, whose hand never takes a bribe, who stops his ears from listening murderous plots and shuts his eyes to avoid endorsing evil – he will dwell on the heights; his refuge will be the rocky fortress, his food provided, his water assured.” Isaiah 33:14–16
Isaiah 33 is an “emergency psalm” of sorts. It seems to have three clear divisions: A prayer for the promised destruction of Assyria (2–9), God’s challenging answer (10–16), and the future Messianic kingdom (17–24).
The reason I chose today’s passage is that it deals directly with a very sensitive issue as it pertains to Jewish evangelism. Isaiah answers the volatile question: What happens to those Jewish people who reject Messiah Jesus? It also delineates between those (within Judaism) who Isaiah describes as “sinners” and those who are “righteous”. And Isaiah reveals their representative consequences: blessing or everlasting flames.
You see there are some in the Church at large who believe we should not evangelize the Jewish people because, in the apostle Paul’s words, “All Israel will be saved.” But that argument fails to consider the proper context of Paul’s statement.
“So that you will not be conceited, brothers, I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery: a partial hardening has come to Israel until the full number of the Gentiles has come in. In this way all Israel will be saved, as it is written: The Liberator will come from Zion; He will turn away godlessness from Jacob. And this will be My covenant with them, when I take away their sins.” Romans 11:25–27
Paul had already made a distinction that “Israel”, in a Messianic saving sense, is defined as those Jews who believe Messiah Jesus by faith. Salvation is a choice—not bestowed simply because one comes from Hebrew physical descent. Both Gentiles and Jews must choose to trust Jesus in order to be saved. But Paul does not infer that all people who are Jewish (aka: physical Israel) will enter into that saving relationship. That was Isaiah’s message to his all-Jewish audience. Paul simply reinforced Isaiah’s words.
“But it is not as though the Word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel. Neither are they all children of Abraham because they are Abraham’s descendants.” (Romans 9:6–7a)
Salvation is by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8–9).
Since today’s chapter is also predicting the days of Messiah Jesus, it is important to point out that many Jewish people believed in/followed Jesus during His earthly ministry (He fed 5,000 at one point). At the same time, many Jews rejected Him, namely Judas, Caiaphas, and the Sanhedrin. Neither Isaiah nor any other Bible writer would assume the same eternities await both groups. That reality makes our evangelical efforts even more urgent! See also John 7:50–53; 9:16; 10:19–21; 12:10–11, 19, 42–43.