Whenever I read prophecies about Jerusalem I come back to the question of how to understand them. Are they referring to Jerusalem in history, Jerusalem in its present state, or Jerusalem in its heavenly state? One of my seminary professors provided a very helpful metaphor for forming an answer to this question: the prophetic telescope. The idea is that when you look through a telescope distances get compressed. An object much farther away can appear to be next to a much nearer one. In the same way, the prophetic telescope compresses chronology. Often immediate fulfillment appear alongside more ultimate ones.
Such appears to be the case here. Some of this prophecy may indeed have been fulfilled in post-exilic Israel. Some may have found its fulfillment with the restoration of the Jewish state in 1948. Yet the ultimate fulfillment clearly has not yet been realized and so is most likely to come with the establishment of the heavenly Jerusalem. This seems consistent with the Apostle Paul’s own understanding in Gal. 4:24-31, where he says, “But the Jerusalem that is above is free, and she is our mother” (v. 26). Note too that what is above now will be coming down then, because not only is God creating a new heaven, but a new earth.
So ultimately Isaiah 49 is a vision of God’s people in God’s place, and for those of us who believe, and who are members of the church, we are already experiencing a foretaste of what this blessing will be. It will be a place of fidelity, where desolate land and inheritances are restored. Captives will be set free and those in darkness will discover new light. There will be food and pasture in plenty, without scorching sun, hunger, or thirst.
What should our response be to this? “Shout for joy, O heavens; rejoice, O earth; burst into song, O mountains! For the Lord comforts his people and will have compassion on his afflicted ones.” May our lives this day and this week reflect the comfort and compassion the Lord has already showered upon us.
One practical way to do this is to enjoy a Sabbath rest this Sunday. Don’t worry about all those household projects or all that mail that needs attention. Let your priority today be to receive comfort and compassion from your Heavenly Father who loves you and blesses you so richly. Rest, be refreshed, and rejoice.