1 Thessalonians 1:8
1 Thessalonians Lesson #016
January 15, 2015
One of the great promises in the Old Testament that I learned very early as a child and that is memorized by many Christians, is Isaiah 41:10. We’re in a series on 1 Thessalonians 1:8 dealing with the reality of faith. The Thessalonian believers were noted for their faith in God. It formed their reputation, and the Apostle Paul says it spread throughout Macedonia and Achaia. That same thing should be true of us as Christians in our modern context.
As our culture slips more and more into a pagan secularization there should be more and more of a contrast between Christians and non-Christians. Christians should be responding to the challenges of life by trusting in the Word and by having an attitude of calm, an attitude of stability, ease, and tranquility, and genuine happiness even in the midst of crises. There are so many potential disasters that hover around us.
We look at the Scriptures and there are tremendous promises that we have that are designed to stabilize our emotions no matter what the external circumstances might be. This gives a testimony to those around us of the reality of our faith and the reality of what lies behind our faith, which is the sovereign, omnipotent Creator-God of the universe. Again and again we have promises throughout the Scriptures that emphasize the fact that we’re not to be afraid, that we’re not to be anxious. We are to cast our care upon the Lord because He cares for us.
So in this lesson I want to look at another promise. We’ve already covered about five lessons on claiming promises.
In Isaiah 41 we’re going out of the same context that I taught in Isaiah 40. In Isaiah 40-66, as we look at these verses, God is giving Israel hope. Hope in the Scripture is not a sense of optimism based on wishful thinking. So often in our world this is how people try to handle problems in life, and eventually that castle that they build in the air through the suppression of truth falls apart. This leads to despair, suicidal thoughts, overuse of drugs and alcohol and many other things in order to mask that sense of dread and anxiety that is the result of being a fallen creature living in a fallen world without God.
In Isaiah there’s a prediction in the first 39 chapters on how God is going to bring judgment upon Israel and upon the nations. This may leave some with horror and a sense of dread. It leaves one asking how we’re going to survive and what about the promises that God made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob? Is God going to just leave us in this disaster? What we see in Isaiah 40-66 is a section that deals with the hope of the Messiah. It points out that God is not deserting His promises or not deserting His people. That no matter how horrible circumstances in life may appear, God is still going to fulfill His promises, and the prophecies He’s given to Israel are going to come true.
There’s an application to us. Even though these promises are given to Israel in the context of a specific historic disaster and in the context of God, it was judgment upon the nation when He took them out of the land under the fifth cycle of discipline. What we see is that God always has a message of grace and hope in that context. These promises that God gives to Israel within those particular circumstances still applies to us because we are His people as church age believers. He indwells us. He loves us. He’s provided even more for us than He did for Old Testament believers; so these promises reflect general truths that are applicable as much to us as Old Testament saints, not only in direct ways as it was in terms of the context, but these promises like Isaiah 41:10 do have a direct application to us.
Isaiah 41:10 reads, “Fear not, for I am with you; Be not dismayed, for I am Your God; I will strengthen you. I will help you. Yes, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” As we look at this there are some things we need to think through as we go through any kind of promise. We need to think about what is going on here. The basic command is do not be afraid. Do not give in to fear. Fear is an emotional sin that I believe is the foundational sin of the sin nature that is correlative to arrogance. Arrogance is the result of the creature being cut off from dependence on the Creator.
We see this from the very beginning of the fall. After Adam and Eve had both eaten of the tree of the knowledge of Good and evil, the first thing they do is hide from God. Read the story in Genesis 3. As God came as He did every day to spend time with Adam and Eve, they run and hide. God calls for them and says, “Where are you?” He knew full well in His omniscience where they were and what they had done. When we look at the context we realize that as they ate of the fruit they realized that they were naked. They were exposed. They were without protection. All their security had evaporated. All of this disappeared. Reality shifted in a seismic way the instant Adam ate of the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
They sought to solve their problem by making clothes from fig leaves. One of the first things we see taking place is that man realizes at the core of his existential perception that he is vulnerable. There’s a correlation to that because he’s vulnerable. It produces anxiety, and anxiety produces a fear related to his environment and related to his experience. His first instinct is to cover that up and to somehow solve that problem, camouflage it so it’s not obvious, especially not obvious to God.
When God came to walk in the Garden, they come out and He basically asks why they’re hiding from Him. Adam’s response illuminates this. He said, “I heard your voice in the Garden and I was afraid because I was naked and I hid myself.” This is the core sin in the sin nature. As part of our existential exposure from the sin nature we realize our vulnerability and there is a desire to run from God to get away from the darkness that is now inherent in our soul and is not exposed by the light of God’s righteousness and God’s truth. This produces the arrogance of our sin nature.
When we think about arrogance we think about its core orientation to self-absorption. As we are absorbed with ourselves, we become afraid because at a core existential level there is dread. I keep using the term existential in terms of the basic core view of our own existence. There is this sense of dread, of fear, and of anxiety because in our self-absorption. Even though we think we can be self-reliant, we know we can’t.
This is part of what happens with the dynamics of Romans 1:18. When we try to suppress that truth in unrighteousness and cover it up so that we’re not reminded of our inability to solve our own problems, we become fearful. That is what happened in the Garden of Adam and Eve. They became afraid and filled with dread.
It’s interesting when I recently flew back from Albuquerque where I was spent some time with George Meisinger and some of the professors at Chafer Seminary, when I got on the airplane I looked for an aisle seat because I need the leg room. Not long after I sat down, a young Chinese kid in his early twenties came in and sat down. It turns out he was from Taiwan. Then a lady came in, middle-aged, and sat down in the middle seat between us.
I think she asked me where I was going and I said to Houston, my home. Then I asked her where she was from. Her answer was interesting. She said she was from the People’s Republic of Cambridge, Cambridge, Massachusetts, which if you’ve ever lived in the northeast and you’re a conservative, you know exactly what that means. That’s sort of a code word for telling everyone you’re a conservative. Her next line was, “And I’m not part of the People’s Republic” which was a clear statement saying she’s not a socialist or a liberal democrat. We engaged in a little conversation.
Then she asked me why I was in Albuquerque and I told her I was there for a board meeting. Then she asked me what I did. I told her I was a pastor. I usually don’t tell people that right away because a lot of people look at you like you just grew a third eye in the middle of your forehead. She immediately said, “I’m a Christian.” She sounded very enthusiastic. I said, “Really, that’s wonderful. When did you become a Christian?” She said when she was in her mid-twenties she became a Christian. Then we had a long conversation. It was a two-hour flight but it was great that I had the time to visit with her.
She ended up telling me she went to a conservative Episcopal Church in Massachusetts. Interestingly enough, she’d majored in psychology. Before she became a believer, her mother gave her Dave Hunt’s book, “The Seduction of Christianity”. It exposes the whole failure and flaw of psychology, so her mother must have been a believer. We had a good conversation and this kid on the other side of her was hanging on every single word that we were saying. I got up about half way through the flight and went to the restroom. When I got back she turned to me and said, “He’s a Christian too.” I knew he was from L.A. from our conversation earlier so I asked him where he went to church. He told me he went to a Chinese church but that he studied the Bible at a website of John McArthur. He entered into the conversation then.
When I was talking to her about psychology, I asked her, “What do you think is the basic problem that people come to with you?” She said, “The biggest problems are anxiety and depression which are related.” Then she said, “They just have no hope. They don’t believe in God and there’s just this existential dread in their soul.” Then we talked about that a lot. That just goes back to what Genesis 3:10 is talking about, that people have this dread that is built into their “imagines”, being in the image and likeness of God. Since that is now corrupted and that fellowship with God was broken at the Fall, there’s a realization that they’re left with something that is missing.
With suppression of truth and righteousness people are running to anything in the world to fill up that void that can only be filled up by God. That void is primarily governed by this fear that Genesis 3:10 emphasizes, this existential fear. When we look at that and we look at the promises of Scripture, we see the Bible emphasizes the problem of fear over and over again. Throughout the Old Testament, there are constant statements about God telling people not to fear or don’t be afraid.
When we get into the New Testament we understand the solution to that fear. I’m not just talking about salvation, which of course is the foundational solution, but once we trust in Christ as Savior and we’re given new life, we still have a problem. In our sin nature we still have that existential dread. When we’re out of fellowship we’re living according to our sin nature, and that still is a problem. That’s why the New Testament continues to reiterate the same command. For example in Philippians 4:5-6, Paul says, “Be anxious for nothing…” It’s that same principle.
We have to learn to deal with that core orientation of our sin nature toward fear, worry, anxiety, dread, and all of these, which are a complex of emotional sins that work together. Even though the positional or foundational solution begins at the cross, when we trust in Christ as Savior we’re given the new life that gives us the new provisions of the spiritual life of the church age. The Scripture says we’re blessed with every spiritual blessing, but we have to then learn after we’re saved how to implement that and how to grow in terms of these blessings that God has given us.
We need to learn how we optimize the potential that’s there in our new Christian life. That only comes by studying the Word and what God has provided for us and then applying those promises to our lives. In 1 John 4:18, the Apostle John makes the statement, “There is no fear in love.” The way the English punctuates that by putting a semi-colon there makes it an absolute statement. “There is no fear in love.”
Often we think that the opposite of love is hate but Biblically, the opposite of love is fear. Fear is that core emotion. It may produce hate, but the core problem is that existential dread and fear that as we face the uncertainties of life without some anchor to our soul, there’s this insecurity, this fear, this dread about how we’re going to make life work. It’s through the process of facing various disasters in life, various circumstances and uncertainties that we become aware of our inability to really make life work.
Then we try to find something to cover that up because we don’t want to face it. A lot of people just get too busy in life and fill their life with distractions so they never have to deal with that. There are all kinds of distractions that we can use to cover up that fear. The core solution has to do with our spiritual growth and our sanctification. So John states in 1 John 4:18 that there’s no fear in love. I want you to hold your place in Isaiah 41, if you’re there, and let’s look at 1 John 4:18.
It’s important to understand the context here a little bit. I’m hoping that as we go through this study on promises that it really becomes clear to everyone how to claim promises. Don’t just memorize a verse and take it out of context. Take some time when you’re memorizing the verse to reflect upon the context and the meaning of that verse. Even in a corollary verse like this we need to understand this.
1 John 4:18 isn’t a statement made in isolation. John is saying there’s no fear in love but “perfect love casts out fear because fear involves torment.” Now we’ll see that’s not a good translation there in the New King James Version. It goes on to say, “He who fear has not been made perfect in love.” Twice here you have the word perfect and that is a very important word in the Greek. We’ve seen it many times before. It’s the word TELEIOS which isn’t the idea of perfection in terms of flawlessness. It’s the idea of perfection in the sense of maturity or completeness. It never has the idea of flawlessness in the New Testament. It always has the idea of completeness or something that is full. In this sense it’s a synonym often to PLEROO, something that is brought to fulfillment or something that is filled out completely.
John says here that there’s no fear in love, but mature love, or complete love, a love that has total integrity, casts out fear. It’s the idea that there’s a distinction, a total contrast, between fear and love. The Greek word translated “cast out” is the word BALLO, which means to throw or to drive something out completely. The word EKBALLO is a compound word from the preposition meaning “out of” combined with “to cast something out.” That’s the word that was used when it says Jesus cast out the demons. It’s EKBALLO. John uses a slightly different phrase. He uses a compound word BALLO plus EXO. Instead of using EKBALLO he uses a slightly different term here but it means the same thing. It means a complete removal. It means if you have a realization of God’s complete love then that kicks fear out the backdoor. It’s one or the other. When we are occupied with Christ focusing on God’s love, that kicks fear out the door.
So John says complete or full love casts out fear because fear involves torment. Now the word for torment is used only here, I believe, in the New Testament. It’s a strange word, KOLASIS. This has the idea more of punishment or discipline rather than the idea of chastisement. It emphasizes a discipline or punishment in the sense that fear focuses on a failure. It’s the result of God’s judgment on man. But the one who gives in to worry and anxiety has not been made mature, is still immature by love, that is, by God’s love. This just helps us to understand a little bit more about love.
Let’s look at the context of 1 John 4:1. John is addressing his audience as those who are beloved. This is a key term and means they are believers. He says, “Don’t believe every Spirit, but test the spirits whether they are of God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know [the Spirit of God] that every Spirit that confesses Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God. Every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God. This is the spirit of the antichrist which you have heard was coming in the world and now is.” This is not talking about an individual antichrist or demon. It’s just talking about the attitude of rebellion against the sufficiency of Christ.
Then he says in 1 John 4:4, “You are of God, little children, and have overcome them because He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.” This is talking about our potential. He’s contrasting the believer’s reality with those who are following “the arrogance”, which is at the core of the rebellion of Satan and consequently, the antichrist. In 1 John 4:5, he says, “They are of the world. Therefore they speak as of the world and the world hears them but we are of God…”
See how he constantly contrasts in 1 John between an unbeliever and a believer who’s operating on the world system and is out of fellowship, and a believer who is maturing by walking or abiding in Christ. He says, “We are of God.” That means those who are walking or abiding in Christ, which is the believer who is operationally dependent upon the Holy Spirit and is walking in fellowship. “We are of God. He who knows God hears us. He who is not of God does not hear us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.” Then in 1 John 4:7 he says, “Beloved, let us love one another for love is of God.”
He starts laying down the foundation here. “And everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.” Now when John talks about those who are born of God he’s not just talking about someone who is simply saved, simply regenerate; he’s talking about the one who is living as if he is regenerate. He talks about the fact that the one who is born of God abides in God, which is a key term for fellowship.
In 1 John 4:12 he says, “No one has seen God at any time. If we love one another, God abides in us.” God abides in us is a fellowship term. It goes on to say, “And His love has been perfected in us.” That’s it, perfected is the same word, TELEIOS, it’s been brought to completion in us. “By this we know that we abide in Him [fellowship] and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit.” That’s talking about walking by the Spirit. It brings in the idea of fellowship, walking by means of the Spirit, being filled by the Spirit.
Verse 14 says, “We have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son as Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in Him.” These verses are not talking about being saved. They’re talking about fellowship and fully understanding the implications of the justification for our experiential sanctification. 1 John 4:16, “We have known and believe the love that God has for us. God is love and He who abides in love [fellowship] God is in you.” This is once again part of experiential sanctification. Then in verse 17, “Love has been completed or matured among us in this, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment.”
The context now introduces the judgment seat of Christ. How can we be bold at the judgment seat of Christ if we have lived our life in fear? So the concept of fear being brought out here is also the fear of ultimate accountability as a believer even at the judgment seat of Christ. So he’s saying that we can be bold or have confidence in the day of judgment. “Because as He is, so are we in this world.” That talks about the consequences of our fellowship. As a result then we have 1 John 4:18, “There’s no fear in love.”
We’re not afraid existentially because we know and we realize in our experiential walk with God that we don’t have anything to fear at the Judgment Seat of Christ. We know there’s not going to be a loss of salvation, but we know there’s not going to be a loss of reward either. We are walking and abiding in Christ so we’re moving toward maturity so we will hear the words, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant” at the judgment seat of Christ. It’s only when we are living in light of that complete love from God that we can cast out fear. Then the verse that comes after that, verse 19, says, “We love Him because He first loved us.” God initiates, and our love is a response to His love. Then John goes on shifting the application a little bit. This is the issue, that we are not focused on this future fear.
Now let’s go back to Isaiah 41:10. Remember the principle that when we are using the faith-rest drill, faith is emphasizing the fact that we are trusting in God and we are going to do whatever God says to do. There’s an active sense to the faith-rest drill. There’s a command to do something, to stop being afraid. So we are to stop being afraid. If the command is to pray without ceasing, then we are to pray. There’s an active component. The faith-rest drill is not pure passivity. A lot of people get confused about that. There’s an active component. We do what God says to do by means of the filling of the Holy Spirit.
Take the example of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. When Nebuchadnezzar built the huge statue and he called out all the people to gather around and had his orchestra out there, he said that when they play their tune, everyone was to bow down and worship the idol. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego said, “No, we’re supposed to trust God and not trust idols. The commandment is to not trust in idols or worship anything other than the true God of Israel so we’re going to trust God.” That meant they had to do something. They had to inform Nebuchadnezzar they weren’t going to bow down. They were going to just rest in God. So there’s an active sense when we do what God says to do or we don’t do what God says not to do and then we rest and relax.
We don’t then cave in to anxiety and fear, thinking, “Is this really going to work out?” When Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego are identified as those who weren’t going to bow down, they were arrested, brought before the king, who was angry at them. They told him they had to obey their God and that He would protect them and preserve them, but even if He doesn’t they were still going to obey Him. They weren’t going to base their belief on a promise that wasn’t given. God had not given them any specific promise that if they didn’t bow down God was going to rescue them from the fiery furnace. They knew He was capable of doing it but they didn’t know if he necessarily would. They just knew they had to believe the command of Scripture and they had to trust they were doing the right thing and God would take care of it, one way or another.
So we claim a promise which means we are basically staking our life, our fortune, our future on what this promise says in God’s Word. Then as we think about it we need to think through the doctrinal rationales that are embedded in the promise. This is our focus today as we look at the different terms in the verse and think about what they mean. We need to know how they’re used in other places, in the Old Testament and in the New Testament, what parallel passages are there that we can go to and then come to understand just exactly what it is that God is promising within a particular promise.
Next we need to come to certain convictions or conclusions based on that promise which then give a rock-solid stability to our soul in the circumstances. In Isaiah 41:10 we’re given the command, “Fear not.” The second line is a synonymous parallel to the first line. “Be not dismayed.” When we look at the two verbs that are given here in the Hebrew, the first verb is yare, which can also mean anxiety, worry and a sense of dread. So it’s “fear not”. Sometimes it has the idea of respect but that’s another nuance. Here it’s the idea of being fearful and afraid and scared. It’s an imperfect that used as a command, which is just a form of a Greek grammar. This is called a jussive in Hebrew grammar.
The parallel to it in the second line is shaah which is translated dismay. This is a word that also has the same force of an imperative in the Hebrew, and it means not to look anxiously about, don’t be overwhelmed, don’t worry. It’s a very close synonym to the idea of fear. As we look at this, the two lines of Hebrew poetry parallel each other very closely, both stating the idea of not being afraid. Between these two words it gives us a fullness of the idea here of what God is prohibiting. Don’t be afraid. Don’t be fearful. Don’t worry. Don’t give in to anxiety.
When things get tough in our lives, many times we have difficulty sleeping. We go to bed. Maybe we have a hard time going to sleep at night because suddenly we start thinking of all the things that can go wrong, all the stresses in our life or maybe go to sleep and we wake up in the middle of the night and we start thinking about things we have to do. We start thinking about our debts, other financial worries, health problems, job problems, security at work, and circumstances around us in terms of both domestic policy in government, as well as foreign policy in government. Sadly, most Americans don’t think about that so that may be an irrelevant application for a lot of people because they’re just too ignorant about foreign policy. We live in scary times.
At the time this lesson is being taught and we look at the current foreign policy, we have an administration that is abysmally ignorant of the realities of the world. It’s not unique to this Democrat administration. It was true of the previous Republican administration. Ever since 9/11 we initially recognized this was Islamic terrorism and that the root of the whole problem is the false religion of the Koran. Ever since about 2004 those who have been fearful of any kind of religious dimension to this terrorism problem have gained the upper hand in American culture. Now we have an administration that doesn’t even want to define it as terrorism.
It is terrorism. The one thing all these terrorism events have in common going back to the early 80s, and even before, is Islam. It is a religious war from their viewpoint. No matter how secular we may wish things are, that’s a false view of reality. The Bible says there is a God and that He controls history. Within this history there is an angelic rebellion against God and this is real. But in our rejection of religion, our rejection of the Bible, our rejection of the existence of God, we now have to define reality and explain it in purely secular terms.
When you get a secularized western philosophy that has excluded God, excluded absolute truth, and excluded religion from having any input into the explanations of why things are happening the way they are, the western mindset can no longer comprehend the Islamic mindset which is totally informed by their religious convictions. Until that is destroyed, this war on terrorism is never going to end. There has to be a reality there.
Right now we’re looking at this terrible explosion of this radicalized army that at this point I hear two different ways in which it’s described: ISIS and ISIL. ISIS stands for the Islamic State and Syria. What they want to do is establish a radical caliphate. They are murdering Christians by the thousands. They are confiscating all of the property and all the valuables of Christians. They are running them out. Christians are fleeing for their lives in Iraq. Communities that have been in existence for 1800 and 1900 years are being destroyed. Ancient churches are being destroyed. All of this is being energized by the radicalized movement of ISIS, which is really a resurrection of Al Qaeda in Iraq.
In 2009 when we had a pushback against them and they sent more troops over, we didn’t destroy it totally. Until we destroy it in the root, it’s always going to spring back. It sprung back in a way that is much, much worse than we could have imagined. What they’re doing is terrible. If they control and reestablish a caliphate in northeast Syria and northern and western Iraq then this is going to become a base of operations for terrorist activities against the West.
You have two arguments here. One argument is that you shouldn’t be involved. But if you don’t get involved in any way, shape, or form you’re going to allow another terrorist to come into existence. They have stated again and again in just the last couple of weeks that their goal is to plant the flag of Islam over the White House. The argument that we need to get involved is strong, but I think we’re stuck between a rock and a hard place. This is because of a lot of bad decisions that we’ve made before which have not left us with very good options. I’m not here to help you decide on an option. I’m here to tell you that this is very scary. Without the Word of God we should be awake at night because they are sending and have been sending into America over the last thirty years tens of thousands of sleeper cells. These are terrorists who are waiting for when their time comes that they’re called upon to create some activity. We probably have three or four hundred thousand sleepers in the U.S.
We have a border crisis right now because this administration doesn’t want to shut down the border. A culture and a nation can’t survive when they are overwhelmed by another culture. We’re not assimilating these new immigrants, whether legal or illegal. The issue is that a culture, a nation, must preserve its borders in order to preserve its culture. Otherwise, when it’s overwhelmed by another culture then what they’re fleeing to will be destroyed because they will vote for the same thing that they already believe.
This is already taking place in a lot of border towns and some cities in Texas. You see that the corruption that was endemic to Mexico and many Central American republics is playing out again in city politics. This does not bode well for the future of America. Plus we have problems within international economics. I could go on and on. My point isn’t to scare you to death. My point is to tell you that we have a lot of things to be concerned about and if a worst case or even a bad case scenario develops, what we will have to help us survive is only the Word of God in our soul.
So we need to understand promises like this. This isn’t a whole lot different from the original context of this chapter because as we see in the first four verses of Isaiah 41, God is saying that He’s raising up another ruler form the East, which refers to Cyrus, whom God is going to call to bring judgment upon the nations [verse 2] and He is going to wipe them out. God promises Israel that He’s not going to ultimately wipe out Israel. This is talking about Cyrus, who is the Persian king. So the first two lines of Isaiah 41:10 says to fear not. Why? Because God says He is with us. “Be not dismayed.” Why? Because God says “I am your God.” What is another key word repeated here? It’s the word “I” all the way through this. It drives us to the character of God.
When we look at this promise, it should drive us to not just the realization that we’re not to be afraid. God isn’t just saying to sort of grab yourself by your emotional bootstraps and stop being afraid. There’s a reason not to be afraid. This is the rationale. We are not to be afraid because of who our God is. Israel, in context, is not to be afraid because of the God that is giving this promise is the God of the covenant of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God is not going to desert them.
In this chapter it goes back to emphasize what God is doing in history. As we look at God at these times of trouble, always reflect upon the essence of God. God is sovereign. He rules over the affairs of men and no matter what is going on, or what the stated goals of ISIS or Hamas or Hezbollah might be, they are in conflict with the stated goals of God. Hamas wants to erase Israel from the face of the earth. Their little slogan is “from the river [of Jordan] to the sea [Mediterranean Sea]”. It’s a little chant they chant over and over again about freeing Palestine from the river to the sea and is basically a cry for genocide. What they want is complete and total rule over the Land that they believe is theirs from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea which leaves no room for anyone who is Jewish, not one. So when they have their little slogan, you just listen; and it’s genocide, genocide, genocide and that’s the objective of Hamas. That’s their goal.
Maybe that scares a few people. It shouldn’t scare anyone who believes in the Bible because God says that’s never going to happen. That land is Israel’s forever and ever according to God’s Word. There will always be a Jewish people. Ultimately there will be an attempt to wipe them out in the end times, the Tribulation, led by the Antichrist. But that’s when the Jewish people turn to the Messiah, Jesus Christ, and He will return and rescue them from the precipice of disaster and then establish the kingdom. That’s what the hope is based on throughout this section of Isaiah.
God is talking about the fact that in the immediate near future to that time, He will raise up another ruler who will wipe out and defeat these nations around them. In Isaiah 41:1-2 God says, “Keep silence before Me, O coastlands [nations around the Mediterranean]. Keep silent.” God is saying to them to hush their mouths, to quit talking out in rebellion against God. Then He says, “Let the people renew their strength. Let them come near and then let them speak. Let us come near together for judgment.” The whole picture here is to silence the Gentile nation. They are going to be accountable to God for judgment.
Then He says, “Who raised one from the East?” This almost sounds messianic. When you read it at first glance you wonder if this is referring to something in the far distant future when Jesus returns. But it’s not. It’s referring to a different fulfillment, that God is going to raise up another ruler and another empire after the Babylonians, and this is the Persian Empire. Later on Cyrus will be called “God’s anointed”. It’s not that he’s a believer but that he is someone who is appointed by God in history to fulfill a specific purpose. That is a purpose to send the Jews back to the land. Here He’s just talking about the Gentiles and how the Gentile nations should be fearful of this one God is going to raise up. God is going to give Cyrus authority to defeat these nations around Israel.
At the end of Isaiah 41:2 it’s talking about “God will give them as the dust to his sword” indicating Cyrus is going to conquer those nations. Then in Isaiah 41:4, the focus is back on God, “Who has performed and done this. It is God who controls history [Jesus Christ controls history], calling the generations from the beginning.” This is reminding us that God controls history, so no matter how horrible things might appear, no matter how disastrous they might appear, God is still in control.
That doesn’t mean things will necessarily go well circumstantially for us. You think of someone who lived in England during World War II. We have a man in the congregation who was a child in Scotland in World War II. He’s told me many stories about the hardships they had there during World War II and how difficult it was with all the rationing. A family of three or four hardly had enough food for one person. It was extremely difficult, not to mention the fact that many of them had family members that were killed during World War II. It was devastating for Britain and the British Isles. If you’re a Christian living in a circumstance like that, it may be horrible. You may go through times of economic disaster during a time of war. You may lose family members. You may lose your life.
But think about the Old Testament saints who lived in Jerusalem when the Babylonian army came in. They experienced all of the horrors that their pagan unbelieving Jewish counterparts experienced. But they had the resources of God to handle those circumstances. God doesn’t promise us a happy, carefree life free of disaster and free of hardship and free of adversity. He promises us that we can surmount those negative circumstances. We don’t cave in to fear and anxiety and worry and we can have joy and peace and stability, even when everything else is collapsing around us.
The foundation for this is understanding that God is in control of these circumstances. This is the statement made in the last part of Isaiah 41:4 where God identifies Himself and says, “I, the Lord, am the first and with the last I am He.” This statement is going to be reiterated two or three times in Revelation. In Revelation 1:17 and again in Revelation 22:13, it is the Lord Jesus Christ who says, “I am the beginning. I am the Last.” This indicates that He is the one who is eternal and in control of the circumstances.
When we go on in Isaiah 41:5 we see that the coastlands, the Gentiles, see the rise of this power in the east. We look at the pagan west and the pagans around Europe and see they can look with a horrible sense of fear at what is rising up again in the same area in Iraq. The Gentiles, the Persian Empire, are afraid they will be conquered militarily. “The ends of the earth were afraid. They drew near and everyone helped his brother and said, ‘Be of good courage’.” This is a false courage. It’s based on their paganism and their idolatry.
Verse 7 pictures the craftsmen, the goldsmiths, who are building these idols they are trusting. This is what the world does. This is what the pagan world does. They construct false systems of hope that are unreliable, that do not solve the problem of fear. But not the believers. So God says in Isaiah 41:8, “But you Israel…” See the contrast between the pagan trusting in his idols and the believer trusting in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. “But you Israel are my servant. Jacob, whom I have chosen, the descendants of Abraham, my friend. You whom I have taken from the ends of the earth and called from its farthest regions and said, ‘You are my servant. I have chosen you and have not cast you away.’” That’s the foundation for Israel, the Abrahamic covenant.
We have a different set of promises as church age believers, but we are in Christ. The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is the God of the Christian and so the principles apply on the basis of the fact that God has chosen the Church, and God has not cast us away. He has provided us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenlies, so the same principles apply to us as the principle in Isaiah 41:10. It states, “Fear not for I am with you. Be not dismayed for I am your God.” This is as true for us as it was for ancient Israel.
He says, “I will strengthen you. I will help you.” God strengthens us. He doesn’t remove the test. He strengthens us and He helps us and He holds us up on the basis of His righteous right hand, which is a term describing His justice and His integrity. So when we look at this we understand that fear is such a horrible, horrible sin, that we dare not cave into it.
In the next lesson I want to come back and talk a little bit about fear and then expand this into understanding some of the things that God says. For example, in this context, we have five or six promises all related to fearing not. Isaiah 41:10 and then Isaiah 41:13, “For I, the Lord your God, will hold your right hand saying to you, ‘Fear not for I will help you.’” In Isaiah 41:14, “Fear not, you worm Jacob.’ When God says “you worm, Jacob,” He’s emphasizing the fact that their humanity, their inability to solve their problems and their identity of not depending upon Him emphasizes the fact that they’re not focused on Him.” Jacob was given a new name, Israel, by God and so when Jacob is used, He’s emphasizing Jacob’s basic character as the chiseler, the manipulator, the one who is trying to get his own way on his own terms. When God uses Israel, He’s focusing on him as being spiritual and dependent upon God. So God says, “Fear not, you worm, Jacob, the men of Israel for I will help you and you holy men of Israel.”
Then in Isaiah 43:1 God says, “But now says the Lord God who created you, Jacob, and He who formed you, O Israel, fear not for I have redeemed you.” In Isaiah 43:5 God says, “Fear not for I am with you. I will bring your descendants form the East and gather you from the West.” Then in Isaiah 44:2, “Thus says the Lord God who made you and formed you from the womb, ‘Fear not, O Jacob my servant and you Jeshurun whom I have chosen'.” Again and again and again, the emphasis is on fearing not.
The same thing comes over into the New Testament. We’re to be “anxious for nothing” because God is the One who cares for us and God is the one who provides for us. So we’ll come back and develop this a little more as we think through what God is teaching us about fear, and how to really cast fear out of our lives as we focus on the integrity and the love of God.