Thus says the Lord: “In a time of favor I have answered you; in a day of salvation I have helped you; I will keep you and give you as a covenant to the people, to establish the land, to apportion the desolate heritages.”Isaiah 49:8 ESV
The Lord continues to speak to the servant of the Lord. The servant had faith that the Lord was His strength (Isa 49:6), and so the Lord helped him, saved him, and kept him. This is true for Jesus, whom God raised to eternal life and seated at His right hand. But it is also true that the day of salvation is today (see how Paul uses this verse in 2 Cor 5:20-6:2). Whoever will be reconciled to God through Jesus’ death and resurrection will be helped, saved, and kept by God. The mission that looked like a failure in Isa 49:4 will overwhelmingly succeed by the power of God.
Jesus is given as a new covenant, and what may surprise Christian readers is that the blessings he brings are what we normally associate with the old covenant. The goals of the old and new covenants are not different; the difference is that the new covenant enables us to fully reach the goals. “Apportion desolate heritages” means to divide up the promised land between God’s people. But in Isa 49 we’ve already seen that the promised land is not only Canaan, but will grow to the ends of the earth (Isa 49:6). So when Jesus says “the meek will inherit the earth” (Matt 5:5), he means the Earth.
A notoriously difficult question is whether the land promises have begun to be fulfilled in the kingdom of God. I remember G. K. Beale giving an uncharacteristically weak answer to this question in his New Testament Biblical Theology (I have no idea what page, so just read the whole book): he said the land promises may have begun to be fulfilled in Jesus’ resurrection body. That is a glorious beginning to the physical new creation, but is it really the most we can say about the present fulfillment of the land promises? I haven’t given this enough thought to answer that question, but I think it should be raised. So here are a few quick thoughts.
- Paul speaks to this issue when he says the Spirit is the down payment of our inheritance (2 Cor 1:22, 5:5; Eph 1:14). These three verses are looking forward to a future fulfillment of land promises, but see the beginning of fulfillment in the gift of the Spirit. What does the Spirit have to do with land? The land promises will be completely fulfilled in the new creation, and the Spirit has begun the new creation in us (2 Cor 5:17). The blessings described in Isa 49:9-10 will be fully experienced after Jesus returns, but today the Spirit truly gives us spritual sight, light, life, provision, security, and guidance.
- The New Testament authors see New Jerusalem as a heavenly city, and in a sense we are already there in Christ (Gal 4:26-7 Heb 12:22-4, c.f. Eph 2:7). We look forward to the same city as Abraham (Heb 11:8-16), and we are already citizens of that city (Phil 3:20). I’ll probably write more on this when I cover the second half of Isa 49.
- Most controversially, if Jesus already has all authority in heaven and in earth (Matt 28:18), then can Josh 1:3 be applied to Jesus and therefore the church? “Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given to you” (John 1:3). Just as the Israelites filled Canaan little by little (Deut 7:22), Jesus is conquering the world gradually. Matt 13:24-43 would be an interesting passage to consider, because the parables about the gradual growth of the kingdom are shoved in the middle of a parable that flattens out this age and sees the whole world as Jesus’ kingdom. Finally, if Acts 2:8 is fulfilled in the resurrection (Acts 13:33), then hasn’t Jesus already begun to receive the nations as his heritage (Psalm 2:9)?
I’ve raised the question. Comment if you have an answer.