Isa 40:3 A voice cries: "In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Isa 40:4 Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain.
The Gospels are very clear that these verses are referring to John the Baptist. Even John quotes them when he is asked who he was. He doesn’t use his given name but refers to himself as this voice that was preparing a way for the coming Messiah. His whole identity is wrapped up in his relationship to God which is an important lesson for us but I want to go in a different direction in this article.
In the days of Isaiah the custom was to go out and smooth out the road the coming king would be traveling on for his comfort. But this begs the question, how was John preparing the way for the Messiah. We know that he didn’t actually smooth an actual road for Jesus so what is being referred to here? He is called a voice, not a bulldozer operator. That is a big clue that he is preparing the way through preaching. As we study what John did do we begin to piece it together. He preached a coming King who was going to set up an everlasting kingdom and one entered it through repentance and faith; pretty much the exact same thing Jesus preached. In fact, we could say that he prepared a people for the Lord by preaching the gospel not unlike today.
So he was preparing a people for the King since this kingdom only exists in people. Jesus makes the spiritual nature of the kingdom abundantly clear when he said that if anyone says it is here or there don’t believe them because it is within a person. It wasn’t about smoothing a road for a king to come to a location but creating a kingdom in the hearts of people that he can reign over them spiritually. This is why Jesus told Nicodemus that one could only enter it by being born again, not by being a Jew or any other way.
To see John’s ministry as trying to get the location of Palestine ready for Christ to rule sort of misses the point. Jesus didn’t come to offer the Jews the chance for him to reestablish a kingdom in Jerusalem. He came to set up an everlasting kingdom in the hearts of the elect that will ultimately see its final form in a new heavens and new earth.
So while Christians for the most part know that these verses are fulfilled in John the Baptist, there are some who completely miss the point of what kind of kingdom is being prepared by John and Jesus. Even though the kingdom terminology is always couched in the spiritual terms like those used above, some insist that Jesus was indeed trying to set up a kingdom in the location of Palestine; that the kingdom prophesied in the OT was for the Jews with the Messiah physically sitting on a throne in Jerusalem. This kingdom, they say, was rejected and postponed until a later time. There are many ways to refute this take on the kingdom but let me point out one just from Isaiah 40.
The problem is that there is no biblical suggestion that the Lord was ever going to come and offer anything that could be rejected. In fact, the next several chapters are some of the clearest passages in all the Bible of God’s sovereignty. Notice just in the next few verses that deal with God coming at the time of John the Baptist that there is no hint that he might get rejected but if anything is clear it is that he is going to come in power and do just what he intends to do. Notice particularly vss. 10-11, Isa 40:10 Behold, the Lord GOD comes with might, and his arm rules for him; behold, his reward is with him, and his recompense before him. Isa 40:11 He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young. Remember, this is prophesied in the context of John the Baptist’s ministry. Isaiah is telling the people that the Lord is going to come with a show of strength and gather a people. One thing is clear, he isn’t saying that the Messiah is going to come in a show of weakness and offer the Jews a kingdom and that they will override his will in order to do their own will!
Where is even the possibility that none of this is going to take place until much further along in time found in Scripture? Are we to assume that the Jews of some future date are going to be more willing to accept Jesus than the Jews of 2000 years ago? Do the plans of God only come to pass if man allows it? Does not the theology that man has the deciding factor in deciding whether to accept Jesus as Lord and Savior sound a lot like this theology that the Jews can decide when and whether Jesus will set up his kingdom?
I would challenge anyone to read Isa. 40-48 and find anything other than a sovereign God who does his will among men and not the other way around.