“The desert and the parched land will be glad; the wilderness will rejoice and blossom. Like the crocus, it will burst into bloom. . . . ‘Be strong, do not fear; your God will come’ ” (Isaiah 35:1–2, 4).
Have a glance at Isaiah 34—even just the first four verses. Can you imagine a greater contrast than between the cosmic judgment there and the cosmic redemption in chapter 35? Yet we must hold them both together as the two dimensions of God’s climactic act. God must judge and destroy all that is evil, for evil will not have the last word in God’s universe. That’s why the Day of Judgment comes before the new creation in Revelation 20–22. God will put all things right before God makes all things new. Isaiah sees the same essential sequence embracing not only the peoples of the world but also the whole of creation itself, both in judgment and salvation.
The original setting for this vision was the anticipated return of the exiles in Babylon back to their homeland. In between lay the parched and burning wilderness, so the journey is portrayed like a new exodus (40:3–5, 41:17–20), only this time the desert would be carpeted with spring flowers, shaded with cedar trees, abundant in gushing water, and utterly safe (35:1–2, 6–7, 9). But the poetic imagery soars far beyond the historical reality of their actual return from exile. It points toward something far greater: the final gathering of all the Lord’s redeemed people into the eternal joy of the new creation (v. 10). That’s us! We are on our way home! All the sorrow and tears of this fallen world will vanish, overtaken by the songs of joy of those whom God will have ransomed by the precious blood of his Son.
But we the redeemed are not the only ones coming home. Look who “comes” in verse 4: “Your God will come”!—the very meaning of Advent. And when God comes, not only will nature be transformed; the most intractable human afflictions will yield to God’s arrival (vv. 5–6). No wonder there was amazement when Jesus performed exactly these miracles and pointed John the Baptist’s disciples to the Scripture that prophesied them (Matt. 11:1–6). For if Jesus is doing the very things Isaiah said would happen when God comes, then who is Jesus?
With the advent of Jesus, the messianic reign of God has arrived. But although God’s new age has begun, the old age is still with us. And so we live in the meantime. Still in the wilderness of this world, we are refreshed by the promised “streams in the desert” as we anticipate the “everlasting joy” of entering the Zion of the new creation with all God’s redeemed.
Christopher J. H. Wright is international program director of Langham Partnership International. He is the author of several books, including The Old Testament in Seven Sentences and The Mission of God (InterVarsity Press).
This reflection is part of CT’s 2019 Advent devotional which includes Scripture-based reflections for the Advent and Christmas season (more info here). A similar CT devotional special issue for Lent and Easter will be available for purchase in early 2020.
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