A Preliminary Vision of the Last Judgment
As Advent is a time of preparation for our Lord’s coming, one excellent way to prepare is to meditate on the end of the world and final judgment. Isaiah 24 marks the end of that section of Isaiah in which individual nations are judged, with a final judgment over the whole earth. Notice the wonderful egalitarianism of it all: “As with the people, so with the priest; as with the slave, so with the master; as with the maid, so with her mistress; as with the buyer, so with the seller; as with the lender, so with the borrower; as with the debtor, so with the creditor.” All are judged; no one is given diplomatic immunity. It is reminiscent of Revelation 20:12: “And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and the books were opened.” It’s really quite a dreadful scene.
Isaiah gives the reason for the judgment: “The earth lies defiled under its inhabitants; for they have transgressed the laws, violated the statutes, broken the everlasting covenant.” It is debated just what this “everlasting covenant” is. I see it in a general sense. We have broken the covenant made with Adam and Eve at our creation: “God made man upright, but they have sought out many schemes” (Ecclesiastes 7:29). We have defiled our consciences with sin, shattered the image of God in which we were created, and broken the world God made. Thus, “a curse devours the earth, and the inhabitants suffer for their guilt.”
Yes, a great day of reckoning awaits the inhabitants of the earth. But then a word of hope comes right in the middle of this threatening scene: “They lift up their voices, they sing for joy.” As you read, you see a throng of people coming from east and west, from the coastlands and the ends of the earth. They sing, they shout over the majesty of the Lord. The prophets have a way of doing this; that is, giving a word of hope in the midst of judgment. We should notice that they come from all over, telling us that our Lord’s message of salvation gathers people from all over the earth. It also reminds us that on that day, there shall be a great separation – the righteous from the unrighteous. And what is the difference? The righteous have prepared for the time through repentance and faith and good works. John the Baptist reminded us yesterday that these works include parting with things we have duplicates of that others need. The whole of Isaiah is about not living at our means but living in contentment that others may possess what we might horde. Our Lord had no place to lay his head. May we remind ourselves this Advent season that our time is short and the Kingdom of heaven is at stake.