Easter is a cosmic event. Through the resurrection of Jesus, the entire cosmos has been made anew, exchanging corruptible with incorruptible. As it was in the beginning, light has broken into the darkness; the chaos has been transformed into harmony. And we who are united in Christ by faith are reborn—redeemed from our fallen nature and made alive in Him by the Spirit’s power. Even death has no claim on us: we shall arise with Him who is the firstborn from the dead. What a glorious gospel!
Yet, even with this reality of resurrection hope, we often do not experience the glimmer of a new world—it seems that darkness still prevails. There is death, hatred, abuse, profanity, destruction, confusion, and war. Clinging to the truth, we still are frequently disoriented by what we see. How do we resolve this tension?
The prophet Isaiah sings of the Lord’s impending triumph and demonstrates what it means to wait for Him to act:
In that day this song will be sung in the land of Judah:
“We have a strong city;
he sets up salvation
as walls and bulwarks.
Open the gates,
that the righteous nation that keeps faith may enter in.
You keep him in perfect peace
whose mind is stayed on you,
because he trusts in you.
Trust in the LORD forever,
for the LORD GOD is an everlasting rock.
For he has humbled
the inhabitants of the height,
the lofty city.
He lays it low, lays it low to the ground,
casts it to the dust.
The foot tramples it,
the feet of the poor,
the steps of the needy.” (Isa. 26:1–6 ESV)1
These opening verses offer anticipatory praise to the God who makes the ultimate Jerusalem the rampart of security (v. 2) and preserves in peace the minds of all the individuals within it—all who trust in the living God (vv. 3–4).
The bulk of the rest of Isaiah’s song is devoted to reflections on what it means to wait for that ultimate triumph (26:7–21), and speaks directly to our existential question raised above. “O Lord, we wait for you; your name and remembrance are the desire of our soul” (v. 8). But while the righteous yearn for the living God (v. 9a), the shocking reality is that the people who do not know him never learn anything from the grace that God shows them (vv. 9b-10). And so eventually the people of God cry out that God might come and impose his righteousness (v. 11)—very similar to Revelation 6:10: “They cried out with a loud voice, ‘O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?’”
In the meantime, the faithful remnant live with ambiguity and disappointment (vv. 12–18). Idolatry characterizes the land in which God had established peace (vv. 12–13). The remnant remain faithful while the culture succumbs (v. 13). The cycle of unfaithfulness → judgement → grace → glory → unfaithfulness plays out. God’s people are like a woman writhing in the waving pains of childbirth—and when the offspring is born, all she has produced is wind (v. 18). A sense of despair overcomes them.
But this song—and the gospel story—ends in hope. There is even hope for those who have died in the wait for God’s salvation: they neither waited nor died in vain, for they will rise and share in the joy of victory on the Last Day (v. 19)—a promise briefly glimpsed in Isaiah 25:8:
He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the LORD has spoken.
More clearly than Isaiah, we know that “our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (2 Cor. 4:17–18; cf. Rom. 8:18). The death and resurrection of Jesus has accomplished this, and it will be ultimately fulfilled at the end of the ages (1 Cor. 15; 1 Thess. 4:13–18). But in the meantime, those who are still alive must wait in patience for the judgement of God to pass (vv. 20–21). Even still, we are inhabitants of the new creation wrought in Christ: “And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new” (Rev. 21:5). The Kingdom of God has irrupted into the world, and we have the privilege of participating in God’s redemptive work in the here and now.
The City of God is being built, a city founded on the blood of Jesus, the Lamb of God. Through resurrection, He has been anointed as king and enthroned on high. We are united with him in his death and resurrection, and thereby understand that glory only comes through suffering. As we labor in a world of suffering, let us remember the promises of God to his people, and may we let resurrection hope be the foundation of our perspective. Like Abraham of old, we look forward to “the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God” (Heb. 11:10).
“On the third day the friends of Christ coming at daybreak to the place found the grave empty and the stone rolled away. In varying ways they realized the new wonder; but they hardly realized that the world had died in the night. What they were looking at was the first day of a new creation, with a new heaven and a new earth; and in a semblance of the gardener God walked again in the garden, in the cool not of the evening but of the dawn.”2
Lift up you heads, O Christian! Jesus has risen. He has risen, indeed. Hallelujah!
Insights on Isaiah 26 taken from D.A. Carson, For the Love of God.
G.K. Chesterton, The Everlasting Man