The time leading up to Christmas, Advent, prepares worshipers to receive the coming of the Lord in at least two senses. Christ has come once as a baby and will return as a conquering king. Scripture often contains multiple meanings and multiple layers of fulfillment. A familiar passage in Isaiah, delivered probably in the days of King Ahaz, refers to both arrivals.
The “stump of Jesse” in verse 1 indicates that David’s line will be cut down, which it was about 120 years after Isaiah delivered the prophecy. Just as a tree, having been chopped down, can grow again from the stump, so will a shoot arise from the destruction of the Jewish kingdom. Later prophets Jeremiah and Zechariah copied Isaiah’s use of “Branch” to refer to the coming Messiah.
Verse 10 says “in that day” the nations will rally to this “Root of Jesse” and that the Lord will reclaim the remnant of his people from Assyria, Egypt, and other places a second time!. In what day? It must be whatever day is described in verses 1-9. And what is the first time? I know of no general return of exiles to the land before the return from Babylonian captivity more than 200 years after Isaiah first preached these words. Could the second time refer to the recreation of a Jewish state in 1948? Certainly no event any earlier qualifies, but it depends on the “day” described in earlier verses.
We can easily see Jesus’ lineage and character in verses 1-5, and therefore see the gospels as a fulfillment of this prophecy. We cannot recognize in verses 6-9 anything ever observed on the earth. This chapter therefore beautifully illustrates the image of two mountains, which from a far enough distance looks like one mountain. From where we stand, Jesus has come once. At no time since have herbivores been safe from carnivores or babies from poisonous snakes. At no time since have the nations rallied to him to find rest. What to Isaiah looked like one mountain looks to us like at least two. If the events of 1948 are a second fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy, then there must be a third yet to come.
Isaiah began his ministry in about 740 BC. Ahaz began his faithless and disastrous reign five years later. The final stage of the Babylonian captivity, a direct outgrowth of Ahaz’ policies, took place in 581 BC. Isaiah saw that, as well as the first restoration 70 years later. Then he saw the earthly life and ministry of Jesus 500 or so years after that. We are now living about 2000 years later and have not yet seen in history the rallying to Jesus that Isaiah also saw.
There are only two kinds of prophecy in the Bible: those that have been fulfilled and those that haven’t–yet. As we prepare to celebrate Jesus’ birth, we ought also be prepared all times for his return. It will happen.