This is an exposition of Isaiah 6:1-13 ESV.
In the year that King Uzziah died, Isaiah saw a vision of God (Isaiah 6:1). This vision is a principle text for understanding the Christian faith. Here, we learn of God’s holiness, our sinfulness, and God’s immeasurable grace. While this Gospel message seems plain, there is a more immediate point that concerns judgment, Christ, and eschatology.
A Vision of Judgment
First, notice that this is a vision of judgment. Isaiah’s vision is first and foremost a vision of God the judge, exercising His sovereign rule over His creation. First, we see this in the preceding context. The previous five chapters have presented an indictment of Israel. Judgment awaits the nation who broke covenant with God. For example:
Woe to those who join house to house, who add field to field, until there is no more room, and you are made to dwell alone in the midst of the land. The Lord of hosts has sworn in my hearing: “Surely many houses shall be desolate, large and beautiful houses, without inhabitant. For ten acres of vineyard shall yield but one bath, and a homer of seed shall yield but an ephah.”5:8-10
Second, we see this by where the Lord is sitting: upon a throne (6:1). Isaiah has been ushered into a kingly court, where a majestic Ruler is dressed and prepared for the work of judgment. Third, we see this by the title twice given to the Lord: Lord of hosts (v.3). Hosts refers to the heavenly creatures at the Lord’s disposal, who do His bidding. In this context, hosts should provoke images of an innumerable warband (e.g. Revelation 19:11-16). Fourth, we see this by Isaiah’s reaction (Isaiah 6:5). He pronounces a curse upon himself (“Woe is me!”) and admits his guilt (“for I am a man of unclean lips”), because he has seen the King.
Fifth, we see this in the culmination of Isaiah’s vision (vv.8-13). The purpose of Isaiah’s vision is that he may be commissioned by the Lord as a representative and advocate (v.8). Isaiah’s preaching was to serve as judgment upon Israel. “Make the heart of this people dull” (v.10). The prophet was to perform his duties until the judgment of God was complete, “until cities lie waste without inhabitant, and houses without people, and the land is a desolate waste, and the Lord removes people far away” (vv.11-12).
A Vision of Christ
Who Isaiah saw is in this vision is not altogether apparent from this passage alone. It is God, surely, but eschatologically speaking, this King is more than this. John gives us great insight into this text:
When Jesus had said these things, he departed and hid himself from them. Though he had done so many signs before them, they still did not believe in him, so that the word spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: “Lord, who has believed what he heard from us, and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?” Therefore they could not believe. For again Isaiah said, “He has blinded their eyes and hardened their heart, lest they see with their eyes, and understand with their heart, and turn, and I would heal them.” Isaiah said these things because he saw his glory and spoke of him.John 12:36-41
The final sentence is telling: Isaiah saw Christ’s glory and spoke of him (v.41). The One Whom Isaiah saw on a lofty and exalted throne was Jesus Christ, the incarnate God, truly human and truly divine. First, in retrospect, this gives us considerable support in referring to Isaiah 6 as a “vision.” In Isaiah’s day, God the Son had not taken upon the hypostatic union through the virgin Mary. The Word had yet been made flesh (John 1:14). God had yet to tabernacle among us, as one of us – and so Isaiah’s vision is in the temple (Isaiah 6:1). Remarkably, Isaiah caught a glimpse of New Covenant glory (the God-man Christ) within Old Covenant glory (the temple). This is Isaiah’s first clue that greater eschatological glory awaited the people of God.
Second, that this is a vision of Christ and of judgment clarifies the historical Christ in view. This is Christ humbled and exalted, Christ buried and risen. This is the Christ Who proved Himself obedient to the point of death (Philippians 2:5-8), and Who was then given all authority in heaven and on earth (vv.9-11; Matthew 28:18-20), in order that all His enemies would be put under His feet (Acts 2:36; 1 Corinthians 15:26). This is Christ the King of kings and Lord of lords (Revelation 19:16).
The One with Whom We Must Deal
Christ victorious, Christ exalted, reigning, and ushering in the New Heavens and Earth, is the One Who commissioned Isaiah to be a means of judgment upon Israel. First, this draws a correlative line between Old Covenant and New Covenant judgment. The manner in which God judged Israel through Isaiah (i.e. hardening their hearts in un-repentance through Isaiah’s preaching) is a manner of judgment we can expect under New Covenant administration.
Second, this anticipates the New Covenant hierarchy of authority in creation. Earthly rulers reign under Christ, as King Uzziah’s throne was plainly beneath the high throne of Christ. The throne of Christ sits above every king, elder, senator, and father. Negligent fathers, shrewd politicians, scandalous ministers, and genocidal emperors will all answer to Christ. They all eventually slip lifeless from their thrones, but Christ ever abides glorious and holy as the King of kings. Therefore, there will be no escaping this coming judgment.
Third, this designates Christ as the eschatological point of grace and judgment. Christ is the mediator of all eschatological grace and judgment. Every heavenly blessing is bestowed in Christ, and every heavenly curse is enacted by Christ. Isaiah recognized the Lord for Who He was: Judge of all the earth. From this same Lord came the declaration of innocence: “Behold… your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for” (Isaiah 6:7).
Let us depart from this text by reflecting on this third point, that Christ is the One with Whom we must deal. If we are to have grace, then it is Christ with Whom we must plead and be counseled. If we are to have judgment, then it is Christ with Whom we must fruitlessly bargain. All men will face Jesus Christ. All men must deal with Christ. Some evangelicals want Christ full of grace and without judgment. Other evangelicals want Christ full of judgment and without grace. Neither is possible, for Christ is the everlasting lamb of God and lion of Judah. Christ is forever the Savior of the Church and the King of Kings.
Therefore, deal with Him now, by means of His gospel, before God’s providence clasps eternal chains about your soul. Deal with Christ now, on account of His blood, lest you meet Him in judgment, with only filthy rags to pay for your transgressions. The King extends the cup of life – find yourself thirsty and drink.