h) Purpose realized
The result of this marvelous work of healing and restoration is realized in verse three – “They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor.” God will bring himself glory through their lives, and others will recognize His work in them. Perhaps previously other people were aware of the mourning and despair that accompanied the person’s bondage and darkness. Now God has done a work and the praise for the redemption goes to him: “Instead of being rejected, the people of God will be accepted and prepared for a great and glorious future.” God plants them not as tulips but as oak trees, symbolizing stability, permanence, and abundance. To glorify himself in them is the designer’s purpose in their planting. [Calvin writes, “By these words he points out the restoration of the people; as if he said, ‘Whereas they had formerly been rooted out and resembled a dry stock, they shall be planted and settled.’ . . . [T]here is no other way in which we are restored to life than when we are planted by the Lord.” Commentary on Isaiah, 307-8.] As Oswalt summarizes, “We are made to be mirrors; when his beauty is reflected in us, we become beautiful.”
Today, the ministry of the Holy Spirit is not limited to the Lord Jesus Christ when he walked upon this earth. The church was birthed in conjunction with the outpouring of the Spirit – this time not upon Jesus but upon Jesus’ followers. The Day of Pentecost ushered in a new era when the Spirit of Christ would not just be upon his believers but would live in them. Jesus promised that once the Spirit came, he would work through them to carry on the same ministry. [The Holy Spirit will be their counselor and comforter, will guide them into truth, will live with them and in them, will not leave them, will teach them the things of Jesus, will remind them of Scripture, will produce peace and fruit in their lives, will guide them into the will of God, will reveal more of the Lord Jesus to them, and will equip them for godliness. John 14-16 NIV] The apostle Paul later taught that individual Christians are the temple of God and that “God’s Spirit lives in you.” A Christian needs to look no further, initially, than to the Spirit living inside of him to find the greatest resource to experience hope and healing – the promise of Isaiah 61:1-3.
Isaiah’s section on hope and healing has three applications: what it meant to the original hearers, what it meant in the ministry of Jesus, and what it means today to the abused. The prophecy spoke first to the Jews who received the revelation. VanGemeren writes,
This redemption . . . is not to be limited to the eschatological future.
The prophet quickly moves from the restoration of the people to the
restoration of the land. God is also concerned with the ruins and assures
his people that the cities will be rebuilt and that this will be funded by
the wealth of the nations. The new position of the people of God is
expressed by the word priests (Is. 61:6). They will be priests of the
living God while others take care of menial tasks.
Spiritual benefits are mixed with God’s concern for physical well-being.
The people have been disgraced in exile, but they are assured that they
will have a double portion in the land. The Lord knows that the people
have suffered double for all their sins (40:2) and he gives back what they
have missed during the exile. The purpose of the acceptable year of the
Lord is to prepare the Lord’s people for the fullness of redemption. While
they are on earth they receive the firstfruits of redemption. The Jews
after the exile experienced the restoration of the cities, help from the
nations, and productivity of the land. They were comforted by God’s grace physically as well as spiritually.
For the follower of Jesus Christ, the application of these passages are two-fold First, many of the promises of hope and healing promised in Isaiah 40-66, particularly chapters 60-66, are eschatological in nature. Ultimate healing, vengeance, and vindication will occur when the Lord Jesus Christ returns at the end of the age to establish his throne in the millennium, [Russell Moore writes, “Historical premillennialism affirms the future, literal, global reign of Christ and his followers over the earth. . . . Jesus at his coming resurrects those who have trusted in Christ, commencing their promised rule with him. . . . The survivors of the nations – who submit to the rule of Christ – continue to live, marry, and repopulate the earth. The curse is rolled back but not completely reversed. The nations no longer war against one another since King Jesus rules in peace. . . . The millennium is not neatly divided from the eternal state. Instead, it seems to be an overlapping of the ages, an interlude between this age and the age to come.” Russell Moore, “The Doctrine of Last Things,” A Theology for the Church, Danny Akin ed., (Nashville, TN: Broadman and Holman, 2007), 911.] reigns as King of Kings, and then ultimately creates a new earth and heavens as “the home of righteousness.” The reign of the kingdom of God contains many promises that are fulfilled in part now and in part later. This tension creates birthpangs that cause creation and God’s children to groan inwardly as they wait in eager expectation for the creation to be “liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.”
The Lord Jesus will fulfill these promises, particularly in Isaiah 61:1-3, in any person’s life who has been abused or oppressed. However, the promises are conditioned upon the believer’s response. The process may be gradual and will be the result of maturing discipleship. As the believer learns to walk with God daily and apply the Word of God to his life, the Spirit of the Lord indwelling each believer is able to manifest the same type of healing already explained. So, Isaiah’s words to oppressed people offer hope and healing to the exiled and post-exilic Jews, to believers of Jesus Christ of all the ages, and to victims of oppression and abuse.