Isa 60:1-22 (ESV)
Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will be seen upon you. And nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising… Then you shall see and be radiant; your heart shall thrill and exult, because the abundance of the sea shall be turned to you, the wealth of the nations shall come to you… They shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall bring good news, the praises of the Lord… For the coastlands shall hope for me, the ships of Tarshish first, to bring your children from afar, their silver and gold with them, for the name of the Lord your God, and for the Holy One of Israel, because he has made you beautiful…
The sun shall be no more your light by day, nor for brightness shall the moon give you light; but the Lord will be your everlasting light, and your God will be your glory. Your sun shall no more go down, nor your moon withdraw itself; for the Lord will be your everlasting light, and your days of mourning shall be ended. Your people shall all be righteous; they shall possess the land forever, the branch of my planting, the work of my hands, that I might be glorified.
Isaiah 60 is a glorious vision of a future Zion. Jerusalem was in ruins because she had been judged by God for her sins. Israel was in exile. Isaiah’s prophecy sees a day of coming glory and joy for Jerusalem, for Zion, for Israel. It is a day when Jerusalem will no longer be despised and a disgrace but all the nations of the earth will bring their wealth to her like the Queen of Sheba brought her gifts to Solomon. Jerusalem will be glorious for the Lord himself will be her glory and her light.
Revelation shows us that the complete fulfilment of this prophecy awaits the Second Coming of Christ and the establishing of his final everlasting Kingdom. John has a vision of this glory in Revelation 21.
Rev 21:1-27 (ESV)
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God… Then came one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues and spoke to me, saying, “Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb.” And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, having the glory of God, its radiance like a most rare jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal…
And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, and its gates will never be shut by day-and there will be no night there. They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations.
But Isaiah’s prophecy, like all OT prophecies that speak of the End, has a fulfilment in history. For the End rightly began 2000 years ago. The salvation of God that will result in a renewed universe suffused with the presence of God arrived with the birth of Immanuel, God with Us: then Israel’s light dawned; then the glory of the Lord appeared in her midst; and then the nations of the earth began to be drawn to this light and glory.
Matthew’s gospel makes this clear. Matthew presents Jesus as Messiah, Israel’s King and Lover, the source of her glory. In other gospels the Glory of Israel is first seen by Shepherds. But Matthew does not mention the shepherds. It is the wise men who are the first to come to Jesus. It is the nations of the world who are first to recognise his arrival and come to worship. Matthew writes,
Matt 2:1-12 (ESV)
Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet:
“‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’”
Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.” After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.
In fact, while Israel is poised to reject and kill him if possible, the gentiles come to worship and rejoice at the birth of Israel’s glory, of Zion’s King first indicated in a rising star. They announce to Israel the ‘good news’ of his birth (Isa 60:6). They bring their wealth to him… gifts of gold and frankincense… and they rejoice in his birth.
Matthew’s narrative is a template for the course of history. For though he comes to his own, his own do not receive him. They, like Herod, wish to kill him, and eventually succeed. Messiah is first worshipped and adored by gentiles. It is the nations of the world who today delight in Immanuel and place their gifts of homage at his feet. Meantime his own people continue to reject him. Only when the full number of gentiles has been saved will Israel turn again in faith and rejoice in her deliverer (Roms 11). Then Jew and Gentile together, Israel and the nations of the world, will be part of that city, the New Jerusalem, the bride of Messiah radiant with the ‘glory of God’.
All this is the inscrutable wisdom of God who decides that the last shall be first and the first shall be last.
Let’s make sure that we like the first gentile converts, the wise men, make every effort to find and worship the new-born King for therein lies our joy, our glory, and our salvation.