Isaiah 25 describes an incredible vision. In it, the prophet Isaiah is transported into the future, to the very last days. Bible commentators agree that this is one of the clearest pictures in Scripture concerning the end times. Isaiah shows us precisely what God intends for the nations and for His Church just prior to the end. And right now, we are living in the very hour Isaiah describes.
In the first five verses, Isaiah outlines what God has in store for the nations. In an instant, God reduces Satan’s empire to rubble. And suddenly the nations being held under demonic tyranny are set free. Isaiah breaks into jubilant praise at the sight: “O Lord, thou art my God; I will exalt thee, I will praise thy name; for thou hast done wonderful things; thy counsels of old are faithfulness and truth” (Isaiah 25:1). He is saying, “Lord, You’re never taken by surprise. You’ve done great wonders in the past, and now You have a plan for this hour. You ordained it from the foundation of the world.”
As Isaiah watches God’s plan unfold, it thrills his soul. He exclaims for generations to follow: “In the last days, God is going to crush and annihilate Satan’s power. These palaces of strange demonic beings will be brought to ruin and the devil’s city will be reduced to a pile of dust.”
Chains begin to drop off the masses who have been bound. They are being freed from satanic prisons of fear and sin. Isaiah calls them “a strong people,” meaning “a once sin-hardened people.” And he tells us these same people begin to glorify God. For years they were terrified of their oppressor, Satan, but now they fear only the Lord, the one who delivered them.
In that hour, verse four will be fulfilled for the whole world to see: “Thou hast been a strength to the poor, a strength to the needy in his distress, a refuge from the storm, a shadow from the heat, when the blast of the terrible ones is as a storm against the wall” (25:4).
I see this happening even now for millions of people all over the world. The poor in spirit are becoming strong. The needy are being rescued. And the distressed are finding an abundance of peace. Christ has become their protection, their refuge, their defender, their hiding place. When a blast of fiery temptation comes at them, it hits a holy wall surrounding them and disintegrates. And Satan’s once-fierce attacks fall harmlessly to the ground.
One Saturday evening, I walked down to Times Square as it bustled with tourists and others doing holiday shopping. It is estimated that at rush hour, nearly a quarter of a million people pass through that area. As I stood there, I prayed while watching the masses of people.
At one point, the Holy Spirit whispered to me, “David, take a look at these throngs. Multiply them several times, and that’s how many of my people died in the wilderness. Out of all those masses, only two entered into my rest, Joshua and Caleb. Everyone else died before their time, in despair and unbelief.”
The thought was overwhelming to me. As I watched the crowds, I realized they all had the gospel message available to them at any time, through television, radio, literature, even free Bibles in their hotel rooms. If only they wanted to know, they would be told that the same God who performed miracles for ancient Israel does the same for all who love Him today. Yet these don’t want to know Him. If they see someone handing out a gospel tract, they race by and wave him away. They have no gods but pleasure, money and possessions.
Suddenly, I began to see the value of a single believer in God’s eyes. And I hear Jesus asking the same question today: “When I return, will I find faith in the earth?” (see Luke 18:8). I see Christ, the searcher of men’s hearts, scouring all these venues, and finding few who truly love Him. I see Him searching college campuses, asking, “Who here will believe Me?” I see Him searching Washington, D.C., for those who would accept Him, and finding few. I see Him searching entire nations, and finding only a remnant.
Finally, He searches His church, looking for servants with a true faith. Yet, what He sees breaks His heart, grieving Him deeply. I hear Him cry as He did over Israel, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem . . . how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!” (Matthew 23:37).
As a minister of the Lord, I bear my Shepherd’s burden. And I feel His grief. Right now, I hear Him saying, “Even in My house, I find so few who have faith. Many of My own children, including My shepherds, faint in their times of trial. They don’t trust Me for their families, their jobs, their futures. Indeed, many have made their choice.”
So, what about you? The Lord comes to all of us, asking, “Will you believe Me? Do you trust Me? When I come, will I find faith in you?” How will you respond?
In illustrating for us the rich, satisfying life He has for us, Jesus uses the image of a sheep pen. “I am the gate. Those who come in through me will be saved. They will come and go freely and will find good pastures” (John 10:9). In the pen, His sheep are safe from all enemies. They feed on the “good pastures” of God’s kingdom, enjoying health, peace and freedom.
It is this blessed life that our enemy, the devil, seeks to steal from us. Satan is bent on destroying our precious faith, and Jesus describes him as a thief who sneaks into the pen: “Anyone who sneaks over the wall of a sheepfold, rather than going through the gate, must surely be a thief and a robber. . . . The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy” (10:1, 10).
If there is anything Satan wants to steal from us, it is the life God has designed for us. He does this by seeking to remove us from the “good pasture” (i.e., crucial spiritual food) that Jesus has given us. Immature Christians are most susceptible, as long as they remain on a diet of “milk,” never advancing to the meat of God’s Word. They are especially subject to Satan’s wiles in times of crisis. They spiral into a panic, filled with fear and worry, thinking, “I don’t know how to make a decision. Where are You, God?”
I saw this happen a lot when I was on the pastoral staff of Times Square Church in New York City. The teaching that people fed on there was deep and meaty, drawn from the dedicated study of God’s Word. Imagine my shock whenever parishioners told me they had skipped services to go hear a known charlatan whose only focus was money. How could they do that after a steady diet of solid, biblical food?
This brings up a second hindrance every Christian faces: the alluring gospel of a false teacher. Jesus teaches, “[My sheep] won’t follow a stranger; they will run from him because they don’t know his voice” (10:5). Such “strangers” look, sound and dress like any good pastor. But the gospel they preach gradually leads people away from Christ’s rich, satisfying “good pasture” to the destruction of their souls.
It is absolute necessary that we learn the voice of our Good Shepherd and be able to distinguish it from the voices of false shepherds. How do we do this? By feeding on the meat our Shepherd has so generously provided: “So faith comes from hearing, that is, hearing the Good News about Christ” (Romans 10:17). The only way to detect a counterfeit is to know the original intimately. Only by immersing ourselves in God’s pure Word will we become intimate with the look, sound, scent and taste of that which comes from heaven.
Abraham built an altar of obedience and trust when he didn’t know where he was to go. There are moments in each of our lives when we ask, with anguish in our hearts, “Where, Lord?” We have a decision to make with no clear direction. The believer’s “where” can be related to his career, his studies, where to go to school, whether to move, where to go to church, where to go after tragedy or sickness. In all these “where’s” we must build an altar of confidence and trust where we release everything into His hands. Faith that builds an altar when we don’t know where to go will never be disappointed. God will bless, provide and protect as we grow in our trust and confidence in Him. Abraham also built an altar of faith when he didn’t know God’s “what, how, or why.”
“By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to the place which he would receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he dwelt in the land of promise as in a foreign country. . . . Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born as many as the stars of the sky in multitude—innumerable as the sand which is by the seashore” (Hebrews 11:8-9 and 12, NKJV).
There is so much substance and spiritual weight in these few verses. Abraham’s test was in the waiting—He didn’t know God’s “when.” The fulfillment always seemed to be delayed and the promise appeared to be vanishing little by little, the doubts becoming a “Mount Everest” of unbelief. He came to a place where he had absolutely no idea how God could possibly accomplish what He had promised. In these passages of the book of Hebrews the author makes reference to God’s promise to Abraham that he would have a son. For Sarah and Abraham it had always been difficult, so hard to believe, but now they were staring at an endless ocean of impossibility as far as the eye could see. It was a situation in which the only resource was faith to “rebuild” an altar in order to receive.
Abraham had faced this war with unbelief his whole life. Just as you and I, many times he found himself deep in these fierce battles of faith with the adversary and he was torn up with pangs of anguish from this endless questioning that is common to all believers: When? How? Why? Where, God?
Claude Houde, lead pastor of Eglise Nouvelle Vie (New Life Church) in Montreal, Canada, is a frequent speaker at the Expect Church Leadership Conferences conducted by World Challenge throughout the world. Under his leadership New Life Church has grown from a handful of people to more than 3500 in a part of Canada with few successful Protestant churches.
The Israelites went ahead of God by organizing an army, planning a strategy, and striking out on their own. But when the enemy saw them, they chased the Israelite soldiers “as bees do” and destroyed them (see Deuteronomy 1:44).
I have seen horrible cases of believers who have never entered into God’s rest. The Lord brought them to a place of severe testing—a family crisis, a financial struggle, a marriage problem—but they did not wait for God to act. Instead, they accused Him of neglect and tried to solve their crises on their own. Today, those believers have no rest, no peace, no sense of God’s presence, and they live in constant doubt. They seem to go from one crisis to another and all they can talk about is their latest problem. Yet every bit of their confusion is caused by one thing: unbelief.
The Psalmist says, “We spend our years as a tale that is told” (Psalm 90:9). This psalm is speaking of unbelievers. What is the title of their tale? It is These All Lived and Died in Vain. It’s the same story we hear people tell of unbelieving grandparents: “They lived all their years in gloom. They did nothing but murmur and complain and they died alone and forgotten.”
This is the dread of unbelief. It cuts off your spiritual history, so that all that’s remembered of you is a wasted life. When Israel’s young generation asked about what happened to Grandma and Grandpa, they were told, “They murmured and complained all the time. They had nothing to live for, so they just sat around waiting to die.”
True believers are determined to trust God even if their prayer isn’t answered. It doesn’t matter if all their goods are taken away, or even if they face death. They desire to enter God’s rest. What is the evidence of such a life? They have “ceased from [their] own works” (see Hebrews 4:10). They no longer lie awake at night trying to solve their problems in their own wisdom and skill. Instead, they turn everything over to Jesus. It doesn’t matter whether they end up in gain or loss. Their only focus is that God has a plan, and that He is working it out in their lives.