"I . . . am about to come and gather the people of all nations and languages, and they will come and see my glory. . . . I will send some . . . to the distant islands that have not heard of my fame or seen my glory. They will proclaim my glory among the nations.” -- Isaiah 66:18-19
When Jesus gave the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20), did He catch His followers off-guard? Did our Lord’s words in Acts 1:8 about going to “the ends of the earth” perhaps even shock the disciples?
“No” to both questions. Neither of those statements about world evangelism would have surprised the disciples if they remembered how the book of Isaiah ends (and they likely did).
Isaiah speaks about the coming Messiah more than does any other Old Testament book. Several of Isaiah’s messianic prophecies even appear in chronological order, including the Isaiah 66 foreshadowing of the Great Commission.
For instance, early on, Isaiah speaks of Jesus’ miraculous birth (chapters 7 and 9). Then, in chapter 11, Jesus’ boyhood days in Nazareth are predicted. Chapter 40 mentions the Messiah’s forerunner whom we know as John the Baptist. Chapters 35 and 53 list specific aspects of Jesus’ earthly ministry. Chapter 65 foretells Jesus’ rejection by the Jewish leaders.
Then, Isaiah’s closing verses contain God’s message that He would be sending people to “distant islands” to proclaim His glory “among the nations.” Though penned 700 years before the Messiah’s birth, don’t those words sound remarkably similar to Jesus’ statements in Matthew 28:19-20, Mark 16:15 and Acts 1:8?
Isaiah 66 does not call God’s people to stir up lukewarm believers (although that needs to be done). It is not urging us to speak of Kingdom things to our unbelieving next-door neighbors (although that needs to be done). This is about evangelizing in distant places which have yet to hear the Gospel. It is about speaking of God’s might, beauty, goodness, justice, and honor to people who know little or nothing about Him.
Isaiah’s call to ministry included an awe-inspiring vision of God’s glory (Isaiah 6:1-8). Appropriately then, God chose to announce through Isaiah that His glory would be what His messengers would proclaim in distant places.
To be sure, that message must include, “Repent and turn from your wicked ways.” We do want people to forsake their wicked ways. Nonetheless, Isaiah 66:18-19 reminds us that lifting up God’s radiant holiness is a primary reason for our world evangelism efforts.
In his letters, Paul never refers to Isaiah 66:18-19. Nonetheless, some Bible scholars see in his ministry and writings the influence of this prophecy. It is a prophecy which we today are invited to help fulfill. One implication of Isaiah 66:18-19 is that world evangelism is a central focus of God’s heart. Thus, if we are not engaged in some way with something so dear to our Lord’s heart, dare we talk about how much we love Him?