Today we come to the end of the book of Isaiah. This prophet of the eighth century BC focused first on Judah, highlighting the nation’s failure to trust and obey God. Such evil, Isaiah foresaw, would lead finally to exile for Judah, just as the failure of the northern kingdom led to its exile (Isa. 1–5; 7–39). To solve this problem, there would have to be a cleansing of the people so that they would trust the Lord, as evidenced in Isaiah’s own experience (chap. 6). Isaiah predicted that this cleansing would occur after the exile through the atoning work of the Suffering Servant, the Messiah (40–55).
Yet this cleansing and salvation of the children of Jacob would not benefit them alone. It would have consequences for the whole world, as the nations would be directed via the light of God’s glory reflected in His redeemed people to worship and serve the one true Lord of all (56–65). This would culminate in new heavens and a new earth, a teaching Isaiah reiterates in today’s passage. However, this new world will not be for all human beings without exception, as we read in Isaiah 66:15–16, 24. Some people are not going to enjoy the blessings of a name that remains before the Lord forever—eternal life—but will suffer eternal death. These people are those who “have rebelled against [God] (v. 24), including both ethnic Jews who do not look for God’s grace and Gentile pagans. We see this in verse 17, where “those who sanctify and purify themselves” seems to refer to individuals who rely on their own efforts for salvation and cleansing, not the grace of God. The others who are mentioned in the verse as “eating pig’s flesh and the abomination and mice” are Gentile idolators, as such practices were associated with idolatry.
Ethnic Jews and Gentiles inherit the new heavens and earth—if they do not deny God’s grace or practice idolatry but trust in Yahweh alone for salvation. Isaiah lists the many lands from which the redeemed will come, referring to the far reaches of the known world of his day—Asia Minor (Javan); Spain or the extreme west of the Mediterranean region (Tarshish); Africa (Pul and Lud); the Caucasus area, including modern Russia, Georgia, and Armenia (Tubal)—and to the ends of the earth yet unknown to the prophet—“the coastlands far away” (vv. 18–19). John echoes Isaiah: “a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages” will worship the triune Creator through the Lamb (Rev. 7:9—12).