“Good news,” “good tidings,” or “gospel” is found in a handful of passages in Isaiah. The Jews in the First Century were well familiar with this “good news” and were anticipating the coming of the Messiah as the fulfillment of these good news passages.
(Isa 40:9-12) You who bring good tidings [good news] to Zion, go up on a high mountain. You who bring good tidings [good news] to Jerusalem, lift up your voice with a shout, lift it up, do not be afraid; say to the towns of Judah, “Here is your God!” 10 See, the Sovereign LORD comes with power, and his arm rules for him. See, his reward is with him, and his recompense accompanies him.
11 He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young. 12 Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand, or with the breadth of his hand marked off the heavens? Who has held the dust of the earth in a basket, or weighed the mountains on the scales and the hills in a balance?
When Jesus claims to personally fulfill the gospel or Paul declares Jesus to fulfill the good news, they’re saying these prophecies are true of Jesus.
According to this passage, the good news is —
- The coming of God himself
- God is a loving shepherd of his people
- God is master over all Creation
(Isa 52:7-15) How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings [good news], who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, “Your God reigns!” 8 Listen! Your watchmen lift up their voices; together they shout for joy. When the LORD returns to Zion, they will see it with their own eyes. 9 Burst into songs of joy together, you ruins of Jerusalem, for the LORD has comforted his people, he has redeemed Jerusalem.
10 The LORD will lay bare his holy arm in the sight of all the nations, and all the ends of the earth will see the salvation of our God. 11 Depart, depart, go out from there! Touch no unclean thing! Come out from it and be pure, you who carry the vessels of the LORD. 12 But you will not leave in haste or go in flight; for the LORD will go before you, the God of Israel will be your rear guard. 13 See, my servant will act wisely; he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted. 14 Just as there were many who were appalled at him — his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any man and his form marred beyond human likeness — 15 so will he sprinkle many nations, and kings will shut their mouths because of him. For what they were not told, they will see, and what they have not heard, they will understand.
“Good news” to Isaiah is also “Your God reigns!” — God is in charge. He will return to a devastated Jerusalem and he will cause Israel to be redeemed and comforted in the sight of all nations.
This passage is immediately followed by this more familiar text —
(Isa 53) Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? 2 He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. 3 He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. 4 Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. 5 But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. 6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
7 He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. 8 By oppression and judgment he was taken away. And who can speak of his descendants? For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was stricken. 9 He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth.
10 Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the LORD makes his life a guilt offering, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand. 11 After the suffering of his soul, he will see the light of life and be satisfied; by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities. 12 Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong, because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.
As many a commentator has noted, this the Gospel according to Isaiah. But we have to also consider —
(Isa 61:1-3) The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, 2 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, 3 and provide for those who grieve in Zion — to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of his splendor.
Jesus himself said this passage was fulfilled in him. And so, what is the “gospel” according to Isaiah?
- God will be victorious
- God is compassionate and loves his people as a shepherd loves a lamb
- God’s servant will be disfigured, marred
- Through the servant’s work, many nations will be sprinkled (made holy, purified, forgiven)
- The servant will bring understanding
- The servant will be despised and suffer
- He will suffer for our benefit, be pierced and wounded
- He will bear our iniquity
- His suffering will provide peace to us
- He will die childless despite his innocence
- He will be treated as a transgressor despite his innocence
- He will bear the sin of many
- He will intercede for sinners
- He will have God’s Spirit
- He will bring good news to the poor
- He will help the brokenhearted, the captives, prisoners, and those who mourn
It’s important to note that a major theme of Isaiah’s gospel is the Lord’s compassion for his people. He acts out of love and deep concern with the goal of bringing salvation.
We also need to consider the meaning of Jesus as “Son” of God. This is also an Old Testament concept.
Psalm 2 is a coronation song, speaking of the crowning of the king —
(Psa 2) Why do the nations conspire and the peoples plot in vain? 2 The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the LORD and against his Anointed One. 3 “Let us break their chains,” they say, “and throw off their fetters.”
4 The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them. 5 Then he rebukes them in his anger and terrifies them in his wrath, saying, 6 “I have installed my King on Zion, my holy hill.”
7 I will proclaim the decree of the LORD: He said to me, “You are my Son ; today I have become your Father. 8 Ask of me, and I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession. 9 You will rule them with an iron scepter; you will dash them to pieces like pottery.”
10 Therefore, you kings, be wise; be warned, you rulers of the earth. 11 Serve the LORD with fear and rejoice with trembling. 12 Kiss the Son, lest he be angry and you be destroyed in your way, for his wrath can flare up in a moment. Blessed are all who take refuge in him.
Notice that the king is called “Anointed One,” that is, Messiah. And as the Messiah is enthroned, he is declared “Son” of God.
David also says,
(Psa 72:1-8) Of Solomon. Endow the king with your justice, O God, the royal son with your righteousness. 2 He will judge your people in righteousness, your afflicted ones with justice. 3 The mountains will bring prosperity to the people, the hills the fruit of righteousness. 4 He will defend the afflicted among the people and save the children of the needy; he will crush the oppressor. 5 He will endure as long as the sun, as long as the moon, through all generations. 6 He will be like rain falling on a mown field, like showers watering the earth. 7 In his days the righteous will flourish; prosperity will abound till the moon is no more. 8 He will rule from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth.
(Psa 89:19-20) Once you spoke in a vision, to your faithful people you said: “I have bestowed strength on a warrior; I have exalted a young man from among the people. 20 I have found David my servant; with my sacred oil I have anointed him. …
(Psa 89:26-27) He will call out to me, ‘You are my Father, my God, the Rock my Savior.’ 27 I will also appoint him my firstborn, the most exalted of the kings of the earth.
Psalm 72 and 89 both speak of the king as God’s “son.” This son will bring judgment and justice and he will defend the afflicted and needy children. He will oppose the oppressor. He will be anointed as “David.” He will be God’s son, firstborn, and king.
(Isa 9:6-7) For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 7 Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this.
“Son of God” is thus a claim to be the Messiah of prophecy, “Mighty God,” and the king sitting on David’s throne.
Notice that the concept of Messiah and the Kingdom of God (or Heaven) are completely intertwined. A king must have a kingdom. The very point of being the Messiah is to set up a kingdom to rule — which takes us back to Jesus as Lord. When Paul declares Jesus “Christ our Lord” in Rom 1:4, he is proclaiming the man Jesus of Nazareth to be the Messiah and therefore the King of the world.
Now, the point of Paul’s referring to these prophecies is not to prove the divinity of Jesus as a matter of Christian evidences. He was, rather, pointing out that these prophecies tells us who Jesus is and why God sent him. And they show that God has been working out his purposes from the beginning of time. You see, Paul wants his readers to see how Jesus and his work fit into the Story.
These passages also tell us God’s heart and motivation. The gospel isn’t about bringing a new set of rules on how to worship. It’s about bringing the nations into God’s kingdom, forgiveness, and God’s compassion for all people, but especially for the needy and the oppressed.
The American church was wounded by the mistakes of the Social Gospel movement of 100 years ago — but the gospel is very much about social justice. If we distort it as being purely about “getting to heaven when we die,” ignoring God’s other purposes in establishing his Kingdom on earth today, we do God and his word a great disservice.
Paul emphasized the prophetic roots of the gospel for a reason, and we’d do well to listen to what the prophets tell us.