Summary: The vision of Isaiah and its explanation in John teaches us that the whole of the Trinity is essential and we cannot have one without the other two.
Vision of Isaiah always fascinated me. An exciting and well-known passage of Scripture. I’ve read and studied it many times, preached on it. But always seem to have missed something important that I have only noticed this time, despite reading both Isaiah and John many times have only this week noticed that right in the middle of John, there is an explanation of what it was that Isaiah saw.
The temple was built at the command of God, and was for his worship, in the way that he commanded. The priests had a special role in leading the worship and the burning of incense, but the King, Uzziah, thought that he should do this job. He went into the part of the temple that only the priests could go and started burning incense, despite not being a priest. Because he had defiled the holiness of the temple he became ill with leprosy, and died of this disease. The king wanted to get a glimpse of God in his glory, and thought that because he was king and important that God would come to him. But he didn’t.
Isaiah, on the other hand, did not think that he was important at all, he did not try to take over the leading of the worship when he had no right to do this. However God chose to appear to him. This was in the very same year that Uzziah had died of his leprosy.
Isaiah saw the glory, the splendour, the majesty and the holiness of God. His glory filled the whole temple. He was on a throne, showing that he was the real, the ultimate king, the one with supreme power over everything. The doors and the walls were shaking, the whole Temple was filled with smoke, probably the same smoke that was described in the first five books of the Bible that protected people from seeing the whole glory of God, because they would not be able to take it in. It showed that God is holy, that he is righteous, that he is powerful, that he rules the whole universe, that he is different from us, not on the same level at all, but far above.
It was so wonderful that Isaiah was not really able to describe what it exactly looked like. He was able to describe in more detail some holy creatures that he also saw, like angels, called Seraphim, who were flying and hovering around him, worshipping him. Even for them, the holiness and glory of God They shouted out to each other “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts, the whole earth is full of his glory”. This glory of God, they said, filled the whole earth. In other words, it is always present, everywhere, it is here in this room now, but we just don’t see it. Isaiah was given the privilege of being able to see it.
We might think that Isaiah would be excited, would be jumping up and down with joy, or be proud to have seen this. But this was not his reaction. When he saw the holiness and the righteousness of God, he saw his own imperfections and failings, and those of his people. He cried out in terror and sorrow for his sin. Verse 5 gives his reaction. Have you ever washed something, thought you had it clean, but then when you compared it against something new and white, or the sunlight shined on it, you saw that it was still grubby? That is what happens when we come face-to-face with the glory of God, compared with his righteousness and holiness, we see how unrighteous and unholy we are.
But there is good news. Isaiah was forgiven and purified. When he expressed his sorrow, his repentance, his acknowledgement of his sin and unholiness he was forgiven and purified. Seraph symbolically touched his lips with a coal burning on the altar. He was then given a mission from God. Sent out as a forgiven, purified, empowered spokesmen for this wonderful, holy God that he had encountered.
Same thing happens with us. We encounter God, see what he is like, so see ourselves as we really are, this drives us to seek forgiveness and purification, which he gives to us.
The greatness of God and his glory, with the wonder of his forgiveness is what I have always seen in this vision. But this week I have been shown that there is more to it.
John 21 provides us with an explanation of what it was that Isaiah saw in that Temple.
In John 21 Jesus starts talking of himself being glorified. He prays to his Father, God, to glorify his name. The Father replied from heaven that he would do so as he had done in the past. In verse 41 John then goes on to say that the glory that Jesus was talking about was the glory that Isaiah had seen in the temple some six hundred years before. None other than the glory of Christ. Christ was present in that Temple, he was a full part of what Isaiah saw in his vision. We sometimes think that Jesus is not in the Old Testament. But that is not what Jesus himself taught, or the early Christians believed. Jesus taught that the Old Testament was a book about him, and the first Christians saw references to him everywhere. The prophets spoke and prophesied about him, the law that God gave to Moses in the wilderness was to find its fulfilment in him, the rising up of David to be king was to provide a human dynasty for him to be born into.