The book of Isaiah is often referred to as the “fifth gospel,” an Old Testament prequel to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. It is a book about the Messiah, even though it was written many years before his incarnation. Jesus himself makes clear that he is the ultimate fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecies by frequently quoting from them during his earthly ministry. He began his earthly ministry by quoting from Isaiah 61: “And there was delivered unto him the book of the prophet Esaias…And he began to say unto them, This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears” (Luke 4:17—21).
If you were to think about the book of Isaiah and Christmas, perhaps a few of the classic Messianic prophecies showcased in Handel’s “Messiah” would come to your mind, such as Isaiah 7:14 or 9:6. But I would argue that all 66 chapters are beneficial to read during this time of year. The context of the entire book is necessary in order to properly understand these well-known Christmas passages. The book of Isaiah as a whole reminds us that Christmas is not only a time of celebration, but a chance to reflect on God’s plan of redemption for his chosen people. Isaiah is dedicated to the history of God’s people—their past redemption, their current disobedience, and the deliverance that they have been promised. It clearly presents the message of the gospel that we need to be reminded of during Christmastime and all year round.
We do not know much about the prophet Isaiah except that he was the son of Amoz, was married to a prophetess, and had at least two children. But we can deduce from his writings that his family was very influential in Judah, possibly relatives of the royal family, because of Isaiah’s level of education and his access to the king. Isaiah prophesied in the southern kingdom of Judah during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah. While Uzziah and Jotham were in power, Judah experienced a time of national growth and wealth. As often happens in a time of prosperity, this led to a great spiritual decline as the people turned away from God and trusted in themselves instead. This spiritual apostasy was especially evident when Ahaz was king. Although there was a measure of revival under the reign of Hezekiah, it was too late. God promised that judgment was coming in the form of the Babylonians.
When reading a book of the Bible such as Isaiah, it is helpful to keep in mind some characteristics of prophetic literature. First, prophecy usually contains a lot of symbolic language that requires careful thought to decipher. Since we will be reading through several chapters of Isaiah each day, you probably will not have the chance to do a careful study of all the symbolism. Just try to gauge the overall message of each chapter and seek assistance from a study Bible or commentary if you are having trouble. Another thing to keep in mind when reading is that the fulfillment of these Old Testament prophecies is not limited to one specific time. We can think about God’s promises of deliverance in terms of the nation of Judah, but also the deliverance of all of God’s people when Jesus came. In addition, the time between the events that are predicted is not always clear. It is best to focus on the facts of the prophecy rather than getting too wrapped up in the actual timing.
Isaiah and the other books of prophetic literature were not given to God’s people so that they are able to predict the future in great detail like a fortune teller. Rather, they were meant to affect the heart of the believer. All prophecies are given by God in order to display his sovereignty over all things, and in doing so to glorify himself and inspire his people to praise and worship. Reading prophecy also serves to strengthen the faith of the believer. When we look back and trace the promises of God in the Old Testament to their fulfillment in the New Testament, we are further encouraged to have confidence in God’s purposes. Prophecy always contains a call to repentance and godly living as well. We are reminded that God is faithful to his word, whether it be a promise of blessing and deliverance or a promise of judgment and chastisement. And finally, reading prophecy increases our expectation for the fulfillment of God’s promises. As you look forward to the holiday season, pray that God will use your readings in Isaiah to work in your heart a longing for Christ to come again.
Commentators usually split the book of Isaiah into three different sections. Each of these sections emphasizes a different need of the people and a characteristic of the promised deliverer who would fulfill that need. Together they paint a beautiful picture of the threefold office of Christ. Chapters 1–39 promise a king who would come to rule in justice. Chapters 40–55 promise a priest who would serve as a mediator to facilitate reconciliation between God and his people. Chapters 56–66 promise a prophet who would declare the message of the gospel to God’s people and the whole world. As you read each section, think about how God fulfilled these promises to the nation of Judah and how he ultimately fulfilled these promises by sending his only begotten Son to save his people. Isaiah looked forward to deliverance for Judah from her earthly foes. But we can look forward to something so much better. Jesus does not simply bring deliverance from our earthly circumstances but deliverance from sin itself. The restored Jerusalem that Isaiah describes is only a dim picture of the great splendor that awaits God’s people in heaven when we will dwell with our Lord forever.
Isaiah Reading Plan
EXPECTING A KING
December 8 Read Isaiah 1, 2:1–5
Sing or pray Psalter #413.
December 9 Read Isaiah 2:6–22, 3
Sing or pray Psalter #414.
December 10 Read Isaiah 4–5
Sing or pray Psalter #415, vv. 1–5.
December 11 Read Isaiah 6–7
Sing or pray Psalter #415, vv. 6–10.
December 12 Read Isaiah 8, 9:1–7
Sing or pray Psalter #416, vv. 1–4.
December 13 Read Isaiah 9:8–21, 10
Sing or pray Psalter #416, vv. 5–7.
December 14 Read Isaiah 11–12
Sing or pray Psalter #417.
December 15 Read Isaiah 13–14
Sing or pray Psalter #418.
December 16 Read Isaiah 15–16
Sing or pray Psalter #419.
December 17 Read Isaiah 17–19
Sing or pray Psalter #420, vv. 1–3.
December 18 Read Isaiah 20–21
Sing or pray Psalter #420, vv. 4–6.
December 19 Read Isaiah 22–23
Sing or pray Psalter #421, vv. 1–3.
December 20 Read Isaiah 24–25
Sing or pray Psalter #421, vv. 4–6.
December 21 Read Isaiah 26–27
Sing or pray Psalter #422, vv. 1–4.
December 22 Read Isaiah 28–29
Sing or pray Psalter #422, vv. 5–8.
December 23 Read Isaiah 30–32
Sing or pray Psalter #423, vv. 1–3.
December 24 Read Isaiah 33–34
Sing or pray Psalter #423, vv. 4–7.
December 25 Read Isaiah 35–36
Sing or pray Psalter #424.
December 26 Read Isaiah 37–39
Sing or pray Psalter #425, vv. 1–3.
EXPECTING A PRIEST
December 27 Read Isaiah 40–41
Sing or pray Psalter #425, vv. 4–6.
December 28 Read Isaiah 42–43
Sing or pray Psalter #426, vv. 1–5.
December 29 Read Isaiah 44–45
Sing or pray Psalter #426, vv. 6–10.
December 30 Read Isaiah 46–48
Sing or pray Psalter #427, vv. 1–4.
December 31 Read Isaiah 49–50
Sing or pray Psalter #427, vv. 5–8.
January 1 Read Isaiah 51–52
Sing or pray Psalter #428, vv. 1–5.
January 2 Read Isaiah 53–55
Sing or pray Psalter #428, vv. 6–10.
EXPECTING A PROPHET
January 3 Read Isaiah 56–58
Sing or pray Psalter #429.
January 4 Read Isaiah 59–60
Sing or pray Psalter #430.
January 5 Read Isaiah 61–62
Sing or pray Psalter #431.
January 6 Read Isaiah 63–64
Sing or pray Psalter #432.
January 7 Read Isaiah 65–66
Sing or pray Psalter #434.
Originally published December 2020, Vol 79 No 12