For a while now I’ve wanted to post a series on the book of Isaiah, especially to highlight Isaiah’s prophetic writings about this present New Covenant age. The premillennialist camp is fond of saying that many of these prophecies speak of a future millennial period, and not of the present time, but the inspired authors of the New Testament do not allow for this in the way they interpret Isaiah.
Time hasn’t yet allowed for me to put such a series together, but recently I came across an excellent post by Jonathan Welton that does well to frame Isaiah 60 in a New Covenant light. I’d like to share it here. Some emphasis has been added, but see the link just above for Jonathan’s original post:
Many Christians have been taught that the light of God’s people and the darkness of satan’s kingdom will both increase simultaneously. This teaching developed from what I believe to be a misunderstanding of Isaiah 60. Read the following passage and take a moment to determine if you think it is saying that light and darkness grow simultaneously.
“Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD rises upon you. See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the LORD rises upon you and His glory appears over you. Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn” (Isaiah 60:1-3).
I can understand from where the confusion has come. It would seem from a surface reading that Isaiah was observing darkness and light together as parallels. Yet upon closer inspection we find that Isaiah was not observing them together. Look again at verse 1.
“Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD rises upon you” (Isaiah 60:1).
Notice the verb tense, “Arise, shine.” These are commands telling someone who is currently not standing to arise, spoken in the future tense. Arise and shine is something that the hearer is commanded to do in the momentary future.
The next verse is a comment on the current state of affairs and speaks to the present tense. “See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples…” (Isaiah 60:2a).
Notice the word, “See,” which would mean to look around or observe in the present. Picture with me that Isaiah was perhaps in a vision. In this vision he sees that in the present darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples. Then he hears the voice of the Holy Spirit declare, Arise! Shine! For your light has come and the glory of the Lord rises upon you! Because of the order of these two sentences, we have overlooked that the verb tenses actually reverse their order. By putting verse 2 before verse 1, we receive much clarity.
To paraphrase these verses in chronological order, it would go something like this, “Hey Isaiah, look around yourself and notice all the darkness. Now look over there and see the light that is rising from the glory of the Lord. Soon My glory will dispel the darkness and the nations will come to My light.”
What Was Isaiah Seeing?
Another problem that has come from this passage is the interpretation of the phrase, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples. Throughout history, “doom-and-gloom prophets” have been declaring that the end is near because of how thick the spiritual darkness is. Yet perhaps Isaiah was not even talking about spiritual or metaphorical darkness. What if he was prophetically seeing a time of physical darkness? If so, was there a time in history when darkness covered the whole earth? If we can find an answer to that question, we can find the time that Isaiah was seeing. I suggest that Isaiah was actually seeing and prophesying about the following event.
“It was now about the sixth hour, and darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour, for the sun stopped shining. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two” (Luke 23:44-45).
The Jewish day starts at 6 am. Thus, the sixth hour would be 12 noon, and the ninth hour would be 3 pm. This means that the sun stopped shining from noon until 3 pm, the brightest three hours of the day, especially bright in the desert climate of Israel. I would like you to consider that Isaiah was prophetically seeing a specific day when literal darkness covered the earth (see Luke 23), and then he saw God speaking to His people saying, “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD rises upon you” (Isa. 60:1). And when did this glory of the Lord come upon His people? I believe that the day of Pentecost fits the description perfectly.
“When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them” (Acts 2:1-4).
This fulfills Isaiah 60:3-5, which speaks of how once the glory had risen upon His people, the nations would turn to the light.
“Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn. Lift up your eyes and look about you: All assemble and come to you; your sons come from afar, and your daughters are carried on the arm. Then you will look and be radiant, your heart will throb and swell with joy; the wealth on the seas will be brought to you, to you the riches of the nations will come” (Isaiah 60:3-5).
This is why Jesus instructed His disciples to “…make disciples of all nations…” (Matt. 28:19). He knew that Luke 23 would fulfill the prophecy of darkness that Isaiah saw, and that the Day of Pentecost would release the glory of the Lord as Isaiah had prophesied. Soon the disciples would see Isaiah 60:3-5, where the nations turn toward the light, take place. Therefore they needed to be ready to disciple those nations.
Even though the Day of Pentecost brought glory into the church, she still had to “Arise and shine.” That process took a time of transition from darkness into light. For example, Jesus inaugurated the New Covenant at the cross and declared the inauguration of that covenant as “Finished.” Yet the Old Covenant lingered throughout the New Testament until it was finally removed by the 70AD destruction of Jerusalem. That is why Hebrews 8:13 says “By calling this covenant ‘new,’ he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and outdated will soon disappear.”
New Covenant Light
That is why throughout the New Testament, the days before the New Covenant are referred to as being the Night and the New Covenant as being Light. For example:
“The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God… For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.” 2 Cor. 4:4, 6
“When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” John 8:12
“In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” John 1:4-5
“because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the Sunrise from on high shall visit us, to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.” Luke 1:78-79
The gospel of Jesus is light which burst forth out of the darkness! Jesus is literally the light of the world! He is the light of all mankind, He is the Sunrise from on high!
As another author has said: The New Covenant age is regarded in Scripture as progressively an era of Light, in contrast to the relative darkness of pre-Messianic times. In the absolute and ultimate sense, the Light will come only at the end of the world, at the return of Christ. [Please note: I don’t agree at all with this last sentence. -ADAM] But, as the apostles contemplated the end of the Old Covenant era, during which the nations were enslaved to demons, they spoke of the imminent Dawn as the age of righteousness, when the power of the Gospel would sweep across the earth, smashing idolatry and flooding the nations with the Light of God’s grace. Relatively speaking, the whole history of the world from Adam’s Fall to Christ’s Ascension was Night; relatively speaking, the whole future of the world is bright Day. This follows the pattern laid down at creation, in which the heavens and earth move from evening darkness to morning light.
The era of the Old Covenant was the time of the world’s dark Night; with the Advent of Jesus Christ has come the age of Light, the great Day of the Lord, established at His Ascension and His full inauguration of the New Covenant. Now we are to wear the armor of the New Covenant, which is the armor of Light:
But you, brothers and sisters, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. 5 You are all children of the light and children of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness. 6 So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be awake and sober. 7 For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night. 8 But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet. 1 Thessalonians 5:4-8
“And do this, understanding the present time: The hour has already come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.12 The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light.” Romans 13:11-12
So the next time you hear a fellow Christian speaking about how dark it is in the world, the gross dense darkness, the political darkness making way for a future dark day; just know that they don’t yet understand that the darkness was replaced with the bright new day of the New Covenant! The glory and brightness of Jesus is on the scene and darkness is being dispelled more day-by-day.