Full Circle: time and geography of God’s salvation plan
Isaiah 59 encapsulates God’s salvation plan through time and geography.
The chapter starts by the prophet detailing the many sins of Israel (verses 1-15a). Then verses 15b – 16a show God’s grief concerning His people, before shifting to His response – both “salvation” (speaking of the cross), and judgement (verses 16b – 18) through his own Son dressed as a warrior in the full armour of God. Verse 18 indicates that He judges not only Israel, but also the world’s rebellion. Then we come to the extraordinary 19th verse:
From the west, people will fear the name of the Lord,
and from the rising of the sun, they will revere his glory.
For he will come like a pent-up flood
that the breath of the Lord drives along.
Notice the passage refers to the west first, then the east. After the sin, shame and sadness of the Fall, Adam and Eve dwelt in the east. Abraham, however, returned, journeying westwards in obedience to the promise, as did the wise men seeking Messiah. People began to “fear the Lord” in the West: in the book of Acts, Paul was prevented by the Holy Spirit from going east into the Roman province of Asia (not meaning today’s Asia), but was called westwards into Europe, through a dream of a man from Macedonia. He later ended his life in Rome. In the fourth century AD, Roman Emperor Constantine played a key role in the Christianization of the largely westward facing empire, paving the way for the growth of the Roman church in much of Europe.
Isaiah’s westward “flood” took time to build momentum – the European Roman church becoming corrupt, with the 16th Century Protestant reformation bringing a more Biblical expression of faith to the western and northern corners of the continent. Then in the 17th Century, unable to freely practise their faith in Europe, the pilgrim fathers fled to the United States where Christianity flourished, as well as being the biggest homeland for the Jewish people.
So, in the West, the “fear of the Lord” has been a central foundation, bringing order, discipline and justice to the institutions of society.
As America’s faith shifted away from God, the flow of the Gospel was “driven” further westwards, splashing over the beautiful shores of the Pacific islands, with many sons of cannibals revering King Yeshua (significantly also southwards into Africa and Latin America and northwards into Russia). Then from 1977 to 1997, South Korea saw the fastest growing church in the world (and interestingly the fastest growing economy in exactly the same years), with a third of the population turning to the Lord, largely from Buddhism.
The emphasis in these lands of the “rising sun” has always been the exalted splendour and majesty of God – “they will revere his glory”.
The intensifying “flood” of the Gospel has continued westwards! China, through persecution, has seen numerically by far the largest church growth in human history, with well over 100 million believers today and a plan to send 100,000 missionaries westwards. Nepal’s church grew from literally a handful in the 1980s, to estimates of up to one million today. Following the late 1980s fall of Communism, many in the Central Asian Republics turned to the Lord – the Gospel breaking down the ancient barriers of Buddhism, Hinduism, Atheism and now………Islam. Today the fastest growing churches in the world are in heavily persecuted Afghanistan and Iran, with 16.7% and 19.6% annual growth respectively according to Operation World. Open Doors numbers Iranian believers at 800,000.
So, we head “back to Jerusalem” along the ancient silk roads, with few remaining barriers, and arrive at Isaiah 59:20:
“The Redeemer will come to Zion,
to those in Jacob who repent of their sins,
declares the Lord.
Paul quotes these very words in Romans 11:26b-27, explaining that when the Holy Spirit’s circumnavigation of the earth and its people goes full circle, it is Israel’s time:
“Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in, and so all Israel will be saved”. Romans 11:25-26a
The word “so” is key, indicating cause and effect. The fullness of the Gentiles, global persecution, intercession, the Gentiles provoking Israel to envy, end-time global harvest, lead to (“so”) the full repentance of “all Israel” and the Redeemer’s return to Zion in response to our cry “Baruch HaBah b”shem Adonai”.
So, Israel and the fullness of the nations, east, west, north and south, will soon together “fear the name of the Lord” and “revere His glory” – according to the Lord’s unbreakable covenant promises (verse 21).
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