Bible study is hard work. Reading and understanding a 2000-year-old document is hard enough as it is. But motivating our minds to study the Bible is half the battle. It may just be the hardest part of Bible study. Despite this, if you overcome all the distractions and lack of motivation, would you open it to the Old Testament? To the Prophets? To Isaiah?
I am here to convince you that you should. Granted, you should read Isaiah because it is inspired and profitable like the rest of Scripture (2 Tim 3:16). But here are 3 reasons why you should study Isaiah in particular:
Reason #1: Isaiah is Central to the Bible
Isaiah is a masterful work of art, depicting all of redemptive history in his prophecy with the crown jewel of the Messiah in the middle. He has been called the prince of Old Testament prophets for this reason. C. Hassell Bullock describes Isaiah as “a bright star in the prophetic constellation of the eighth century B.C., soaring like an eagle in his literary and theological distinction.” To extend the metaphor, studying Isaiah is like flying on the wings of an eagle over the whole panoply of Scripture. Isaiah begins with a reference to the creation (“heavens” and “earth” in 1:2) and ends with the prophecy of a new creation (65:17). That covers Genesis and Revelation and everything in between. So, knowing Isaiah would give you a good grasp of all of Scripture.
As a central book of the Bible, Isaiah also has the Bible’s central message—the gospel (Isa 53). Isaiah may seem complicated at times but he has a simple purpose. It is to show that God is trustworthy and powerful enough to save (Isaiah even means “salvation of Yahweh” in Hebrew). In response, we must humbly trust in God for salvation. That is the message we find articulated in Isaiah 26:3-5: “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.” Isn’t that the proper response to the gospel?
Reason #2: Isaiah is Messianic
Most Christians are familiar with the famous vision of Isaiah in chapter 6 where he sees Yahweh sitting on the throne. While that is a Theophany (vision of God), there is strong evidence for it being a Christophany (vision of Christ). John 12:41 says that Isaiah saw the glory of Christ and spoke of Him. So, if the vision of Isaiah is central to the entire book (and it is), then the object of his vision—Christ—is also central to his prophecy. Isaiah prophesies so much about Christ that the book has been called the fifth Gospel. From the virgin birth (Isa 7:14) to the death and resurrection (Isa 53) and enthronement (Isa 6), many biographical details of the Messiah’s person and ministry are found in Isaiah.
One of the most important details about the Messiah—His deity—is also found in Isaiah. Many, especially cults, contest that the Old Testament did not consider the Messiah to be God. But Isaiah (along with other Old Testament prophets) disagrees! He uses the phrase “high and lifted up” when he describes Yahweh in his vision in Isaiah 6:1. Many others in Isaiah try to achieve that status but are struck down. It is only God’s place to be high and lifted up. But there is only one other person in Isaiah that shares such lofty status. Isaiah 53:13 says, “Behold, my servant shall act wisely; he shall be high and lifted up, and shall be exalted.” This is why the Apostle Paul applies Isaiah 45:23b “(To me every knee shall bow every tongue shall swear allegiance”) which was originally spoken by Yahweh to Jesus in Philippians 2:10.
If with Paul we can say that we “count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Phil 3:8) then we must find Him in Isaiah and come to know Him more fully because of it.
Reason #3: Isaiah is a New Testament Favorite
The final reason I’ll give for why you should study Isaiah is that the New Testament authors did. Isaiah is one of the most quoted books in the New Testament with 58 direct quotes. As one scholar has pointed out, 194 New Testament passages allude to verses from 54 of 66 chapters of Isaiah. That represents over 80% of the book!
All four Gospels begin with a direct or an indirect reference to Isaiah. Matthew and Luke draw on Isaiah’s prophecy of the virgin birth (Matt 1:23 and Lk 1:31 cf. Isa 7:14). Mark begins with a citation of Isaiah 40:3 (Mk 1:3). John refers to Jesus as the light in John 1:9, an allusion to Isaiah 49:6b (“I will make you a light of the nations”). And there is evidence of much more Isaianic theology throughout all four Gospels. The book of Acts similarly begins with the promise that the gospel would reach the ends of the earth just as Isaiah 49:6b says “…that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.” I could go on and show how Isaiah is used in the rest of the New Testament but if you are interested, you can find a good study Bible and look at the cross-references in the middle of the page to find an overabundance of Isaianic references in the New Testament.
This shows that the New Testament writers understood the centrality of Isaiah in biblical theology and its messianic nature and chose to rely heavily on Isaiah to flesh out the gospel and its theology. If the New Testament is steeped in Isaiah, we must also nourish ourselves with it.
In the next few articles, I will try to help you study Isaiah and get the most out of your time in this amazing book.