Is Isaiah 35 Being Fulfilled in Our Day?
Dispensationalists commonly point to the modern agricultural accomplishments in the land of Israel as well as the “restoration” of the nation in 1948 as proof that we are in the last days. One of the passages that they cite is Isaiah 35.
“The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad; the desert shall rejoice and blossom like the crocus; (Isa 35:1)”:
“Given Israel’s miraculous rebirth as a nation in 1948, and her subsequent agricultural innovations which have literally caused the wilderness to blossom, how can preterism claim that modern-day Israel is not a fulfillment of prophecy?”
Consideration of the Objection
The objection before us is, with all due respect, a classic example of presuppositional theology and hermeneutic, conjoined with completely ignoring the New Testament application of the prophecy. It appears that the objector has lifted just a few lines from the entire prophecy, looked at a travel brochure of Israel, and declared that prophecy is being fulfilled! But, let’s take a closer look at the entire context and the NT application:
“The wilderness and the wasteland shall be glad for them,
And the desert shall rejoice and blossom as the rose;
It shall blossom abundantly and rejoice,
Even with joy and singing.
The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it,
The excellence of Carmel and Sharon.
They shall see the glory of the Lord,
The excellency of our God.
Strengthen the weak hands,
And make firm the feeble knees.
Say to those who are fearful-hearted,
“Be strong, do not fear!
Behold, your God will come with vengeance,
With the recompense of God;
He will come and save you.”
Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
And the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped.
Then the lame shall leap like a deer,
And the tongue of the dumb sing.
For waters shall burst forth in the wilderness,
And streams in the desert.
The parched ground shall become a pool,
And the thirsty land springs of water;
In the habitation of jackals, where each lay,
There shall be grass with reeds and rushes.
A highway shall be there, and a road,
And it shall be called the Highway of Holiness.
The unclean shall not pass over it,
But it shall be for others.
Whoever walks the road, although a fool,
Shall not go astray.
No lion shall be there,
Nor shall any ravenous beast go up on it;
It shall not be found there.
But the redeemed shall walk there,
And the ransomed of the Lord shall return,
And come to Zion with singing,
With everlasting joy on their heads.
They shall obtain joy and gladness,
And sorrow and sighing shall flee away.” (Isaiah 35:1-11)
It would be possible to write an entire book on this wonderful chapter! Due to space restrictions I will confine my comments to just a few salient points from this great prophecy.
1. The objection appeals to the “miraculous” restoration of Israel in 1948. In fact, there was nothing “miraculous” about Israel’s restoration; rather, was a well orchestrated, political act brought about by a misguided theological and political movement. But, briefly, consider this:
The OT prophecies of restoration are clear that restoration would only take place when Israel had repented of her violation of Torah and turned in humble submission to the Lord, (see Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 30:1-10). That take place did not take place in 1948!
Not only would Israel have to repent, she would have to obey the Law of Moses in her repentance. This is explicit in Deuteronomy 30. But, even Dispensationalists agree that the Law of Moses is no longer valid and that it will never be restored! Thus, the very condition demanded by Scripture for the “restoration of Israel” no longer applied, was not existent in 1948. This is a fatal reality.
The OT predictions of the restoration of Israel emphatically state that the unbelievers and the “rebels” in Israel would not enter the land. They would not comprise the restored Israel (see Ezek 20:32-35)! And yet, virtually all sources admit that the great majority of “Jews” who brought about that claimed restoration were in fact “atheists, agnostics and unbelievers.”
The generation to see the restoration of Israel, per the leading Dispensationalists, would be the generation to see the coming of the Lord (See Tim LaHaye and Thomas Ice, Charting). The generation that saw 1948 is virtually gone. Time is up! The truth is that nothing that happened in 1948 was prophetically significant or miraculous (see my book, Israel 1948: Countdown to No Where, for a full discussion).
2. Notice that in Matthew 11, the disciples of John were sent to inquire if Jesus was the Christ. He told those disciples to return to John with the this message:
“Go and tell John the things which you hear and see: The blind see and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them” (Matt 11:4f).
This is a direct echo—almost a direct citation—of Isaiah 35. In other words, Jesus was saying that what Isaiah foretold was being fulfilled in Him and His ministry! Jesus was not saying that at some future time Isaiah would finally be fulfilled. He does not say that what was taking place was a “foretaste” of what will eventually take place. What Isaiah foretold was taking place!
This raises the question: If Jesus was declaring that Isaiah was being fulfilled in His ministry, where do we find any evidence that the literal land was undergoing a physical transformation? Answer: We don’t! There is no justification for such a claim. And yet, there is no doubt that Jesus was drawing on Isaiah and proclaiming that those prophecies were being fulfilled.
3. There is something more here. Jesus and the New Testament writers were very clear in stating that they were living in the very days foretold by the Old Covenant prophets, and that they were seeing what those Old Testament prophets anticipated. Look at Jesus’ words in Matthew 13:17:
“But blessed are your eyes for they see, and your ears for they hear; for assuredly, I say to you that many prophets and righteous men desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.”
The Lord had just castigated the people of His day for refusing to recognize what was taking place before their eyes. They refused to hear; they refused to see. But, Jesus gave a blessing to His disciples because they were hearing and seeing. More importantly for our study is that Jesus said that His disciples were seeing what the prophets had desired to see, what they had foretold. In other words, Jesus’ disciples were living in the time foretold by the Old Testament prophets. That meant they were living in the last days, the days of fulfillment ( Acts 3:21-24).
What this means is that since Jesus and the New Testament writers said that they were living in the days foretold by the Old Testament prophets, and since Jesus specifically applied Isaiah 35 to what was taking place in His ministry, we are duty bound to acknowledge that Isaiah was in fact being fulfilled in the first century.
4. And we have further confirmation of this.
“A highway shall be there, and a road,
And it shall be called the Highway of Holiness.
The unclean shall not pass over it,
But it shall be for others.
Whoever walks the road, although a fool,
Shall not go astray.” (Isaiah 35:8)
To help us understand this motif we have to look at another text or two, and then the ministry of John the Immerser. In Isaiah 11 we find the prediction of the Highway of the Lord that chapter 35 builds on and elaborates. Chapter 11 foretold the coming of “the rod out of the stem of Jesse”—the Messiah. The prophet said that “in that day the root of Jesse would stand for an ensign of the people” and the Gentiles would seek the Lord through him (v. 10). In that day, “he shall set up an ensign for the nations and shall assemble the outcasts of Israel, and gather together the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth” (v. 12).
In that day, “there shall be a highway for the remnant of his people, which shall be left, from Assyria, like it was in to Israel in the day that he came up out of the land of Egypt” (v. 11-16).
Notice now that Paul, in Romans 15 specifically quotes from Isaiah 11 and the prediction of the calling of the Gentiles in the days of Messiah—the time of the Highway of the Lord:
“Now I say that Jesus Christ has become a servant to the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made to the fathers, and that the Gentiles might glorify God for His mercy, as it is written: . . . And again, Isaiah says: “There shall be a root of Jesse; And He who shall rise to reign over the Gentiles, In Him the Gentiles shall hope.” (Rom 15:8-9, 12)
So, we have the Highway of the Lord set up for the return and restoration of Israel (this is a Second Exodus prophecy, which is highly significant for understanding the ministry of Jesus, but we cannot develop that here) in the days of the Messiah, the ensign. In Messiah’s days, Israel and the nations would seek the Lord. And Paul, apostle to the Gentiles, says claimed that Isaiah 11 was being fulfilled in his day, and in his ministry, as he called the Gentiles to Jesus, the Messiah of Isaiah 11.
Notice that Isaiah says repeatedly “in that day” the ensign would be raised for the salvation of the Gentiles. He said it was “in that day” when the Highway would be constructed. This ties the Highway of the Lord and the salvation of the Gentiles together.
So, if the Gentiles were being saved in fulfillment of Isaiah 11 — as Paul affirmed — this means that the Highway of the Lord was present. And that means that Isaiah 35 was being fulfilled when Paul wrote! But, does anyone think that a literal highway, a literal asphalt or concrete highway, was being built in Paul’s day? Hardly. And this is confirmed by a look at another passage that predicted the Highway of the Lord.
“Comfort, yes, comfort My people!”
Says your God.
“Speak comfort to Jerusalem, and cry out to her,
That her warfare is ended,
That her iniquity is pardoned;
For she has received from the Lord’s hand
Double for all her sins.”
The voice of one crying in the wilderness:
“Prepare the way of the Lord;
Make straight in the desert
A highway for our God.
Every valley shall be exalted
And every mountain and hill brought low;
The crooked places shall be made straight
And the rough places smooth.” (Isaiah 40:1-4)
The indisputable fact is that according to both John himself, and Jesus, John the Immerser was the Voice in the wilderness. When the ambassadors from Jerusalem came to him asking who he was, John was emphatic in declaring that “I am The Voice of one crying in the wilderness” (John 1:23; see also Mark 1:1-3).
Dispensationalist Grant Jeffrey claimed: “There is not one example in the Bible of a prophecy that was fulfilled in an allegorical, non-historical manner.” If Jeffrey is right, then we must be able to find the New Testament evidence that John was one of the greatest “landscapers” in history, leveling mountains, filling valleys, building the “super highway of the Lord.” John was patently no such “landscaper.”
Side Bar: In stark contrast to the amazing claim of Jeffrey, Kenneth Gentry cites Crenshaw and Dunn who demonstrate that, “out of 97 OT prophecies only 34 were directly or literally fulfilled, which is only 35.05 percent.”
Jeffrey’s literalistic approach to prophecy is falsified by the role of John—especially as it relates to the objection before us. In both Isaiah 35 and Isaiah 40 the Highway of the Lord is constructed at the time when the desert would bloom. But, since it is impossible to take the language of “road building” literally, this virtually falsifies the claims of the objector. In other words:
Premise 1: The Highway of the Lord would be built when the desert would bloom (Isaiah 35 / 40).
Premise 2: John was the Voice to build a Highway for the coming of the Lord.
Conclusion: Therefore, the desert was to bloom in the days of John as the one who would build the Highway of the Lord.
(It should be noted that in New Testament passages, Paul echoed the Old Testament prophecies of “the Way” i.e. “The Highway of the Lord” as fulfilled in Christ; Acts 9:2 / 19:9, 23. He never spoke of it as something yet future, but, as present).
The ministry of John the Immerser, in fulfillment of Isaiah 40 (and thus, of Isaiah 35) should be more than sufficient to demonstrate that the objection before us is false.
5. Of many additional points that could be made, notice that the day when the desert would bloom would also be when, “The Lord your God shall come” (Isaiah 35:2, 4).
In v. 2 we are specifically told that when the desert bloomed “They shall see the glory of the Lord.” In verse 4 we are told that the Lord would come with vengeance at that time. Thus, the time when the desert would bloom is the time when the Lord would come in vengeance! We can turn once again to the parallel text of Isaiah 40 for understanding.
The Voice would herald the Great Day of the Lord when He came in judgment and the kingdom (Isaiah 40:10-11).
John the Immerser was the Voice.
John, as the Voice, said the Day of the Lord’s coming in the kingdom and judgment was near:
“The Kingdom of heaven has drawn near” ( Matt 3:2).
He warned his audience to flee from “the wrath that is about to come” (v. 7).
He said that Christ’s winnowing fork (instrument of judgment) was already in his hand.
He said “the axe is already at the root” (v. 10-12).
What is profoundly important is that Jesus Himself cited Isaiah and the prediction of the coming of the Lord in judgment and the kingdom:
“For the Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then He will reward each according to his works. Assuredly, I say to you, there are some standing here who shall not taste death till they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom.” (Matt 16:27-28; cf. Isaiah 62:10-12).
In addition, later in that same generation, Jesus promised, “Behold, I come quickly, and my reward is with me” (Rev 22:12; note that quickly does not mean “rapidly” as opposed to imminently, or soon!) What he had promised in Matthew 16 was now on the cusp of fulfillment!
Jesus’ words are clear, emphatic, and explicit. He was coming in judgment and the kingdom—which is Isaiah 35—in the lifetime of His audience. Since it is undeniably true that there are no 2,000-year-old people walking around today, then either Jesus’ prediction failed or He came in the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecies, including Isaiah 35.
What this short article has revealed is this:
· 1948 was not a miraculous restoration of Israel. Nothing about 1948 fulfilled prophecy and, in fact, everything about 1948 violates prophecy!
· Jesus and the New Testament writers cited Isaiah as being fulfilled during Jesus’ ministry and in the establishment of the church.
· Jesus and His apostles declared repeatedly and emphatically that they were living in the days foretold by the Old Testament prophets, the days of the establishment of the kingdom.
· The Old Testament predictions of the Highway of the Lord, in the days when the desert would bloom, are very clearly linked to the ministry of John the Immerser and thus, not to a literalistic fulfillment.
· Jesus cited the specific prophecies of Isaiah 35 / 40 (and 62) of the coming of the Lord in judgment and the kingdom, and said those prophecies would be fulfilled in the first-century generation.
In light of all of this evidence, and much more that could be brought forth, the claim that Isaiah 35 is being or has been fulfilled in our day is false!