Sweet Jesus?

Isaiah 63:1-6
P.G. Mathew | Sunday, October 30, 2005
Copyright © 2005, P.G. Mathew

Who is this coming from Edom, from Bozrah, with his garments stained crimson? . . . It is I, speaking in righteousness, mighty to save.

Isaiah 63:1

Have you ever heard of “hug theology”? Hug theology says Jesus loves us all, no matter what we believe or do. Hug theology’s theme song is, “Sweet Jesus, sweet Jesus, what a wonder you are.” Hug theology teaches that Jesus saves, but he never judges anyone; thus, saved people can sin all the more. The watchwords of hug theology are “Jesus and immorality.” But when we look for hug theology in the Bible, we cannot find it. In fact, the Bible opposes hug theology, especially in Jude and 2 Peter.

In Isaiah 63:1-6 we are introduced to a mysterious figure who is the opposite of “sweet Jesus.” This blood-spattered person speaks to us about the judgment of God. For too long, we have thought of God only as sweetness, whose love covers everything. But we must understand who he truly is so that we can relate to him correctly. God will save everyone who believes in his Son, Jesus Christ, but he will also judge all sinners who do not trust in Christ.

The Westminster Confession of Faith speaks about this aspect of God as Judge in Chapter 33:

  1. God hath appointed a day, wherein he will judge the world, in righteousness, by Jesus Christ, to whom all power and judgment is given of the Father. In which day, not only the apostate angels shall be judged, but likewise all persons that have lived upon earth shall appear before the tribunal of Christ, to give an account of their thoughts, words, and deeds; and to receive according to what they have done in the body, whether good or evil.
  2. The end of God’s appointing this day is for the manifestation of the glory of his mercy, in the eternal salvation of the elect; and of his justice, in the damnation of the reprobate, who are wicked and disobedient. For then shall the righteous go into everlasting life, and receive that fullness of joy and refreshing, which shall come from the presence of the Lord; but the wicked who know not God, and obey not the gospel of Jesus Christ, shall be cast into eternal torments, and be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power.

Let us, then, look at, first, the appearance of this mysterious figure in Isaiah 63:1-6; second, the New Testament identification of this mystery figure; and, third, the necessary relationship every person must have toward this mystery figure.

A Mystery Figure Appears

In Isaiah 63:1-6 a watchman on the walls of Jerusalem sees a man coming from the direction of Bozrah, the capital of Edom. Edom symbolizes the world that is opposed to God and his chosen covenant people. It is the embodiment of ceaseless, constant animosity against Israel. Earlier, Isaiah said that God was going to bring great judgment upon Edom: “My sword has drunk its fill in the heavens; see, it descends in judgment on Edom, the people I have totally destroyed. The sword of the Lord is bathed in blood, it is covered with fat-the blood of lambs and goats, fat from the kidneys of rams. For the Lord has a sacrifice in Bozrah and a great slaughter in Edom” (Isaiah 34:5-6). This mystery figure signals that God has executed judgment.

Why was Edom judged? Psalm 137 gives us a clue: “Remember, O Lord, what the Edomites did on the day when Jerusalem fell. ‘Tear it down,’ they cried, ‘tear it down to its foundations!'” (v. 7). And Obadiah says, “Because of the violence against your brother Jacob, you will be covered with shame; you will be destroyed forever. On the day you stood aloof while strangers carried off his wealth and foreigners entered his gates and cast lots for Jerusalem, you were like one of them” (vv. 10-11). In fact, the whole prophecy of Obadiah is about the destruction of Edom.

God’s opposition to Edom symbolizes his opposition to every nation and individual who opposes him. So the watchman asks three questions about this mystery figure. First, he asks, “Who is this coming from Edom, from Bozrah, with his garments stained crimson?” Then he says, “Who is this, robed in splendor, striding forward in the greatness of his strength?” This one is striding forward as a mighty, victorious warrior. We must keep this picture in mind every time we are tempted to sin. This one comes, having defeated and destroyed every enemy. Finally, he asks, “Why are your garments red, like one treading the winepress?”(v. 2).

Edom means “red”; Bozrah, its capital, means “vintage.” To the watchman it seems the mysterious figure has been treading a winepress full of fine grapes. An ancient winepress was a shallow pit with a hole on the side leading out into a container. When people trampled on the grapes, their garments would be splattered with the juice.

Winepress is used here as a symbol of divine judgment. The enemies of God were collected and dropped into the winepress to be trampled by this mysterious figure. We find the same imagery in Joel 3:13: “Swing the sickle, for the harvest is ripe. Come, trample the grapes, for the winepress is full and the vats overflow-so great is their wickedness!” This is speaking, not about grapes, but about wicked people. Lamentations uses similar language: “The Lord has rejected all the warriors in my midst; he has summoned an army against me to crush my young men. In his winepress the Lord has trampled the Virgin Daughter of Judah” (1:15).

Who, then, is this solitary figure coming from Edom to Jerusalem as a victorious warrior with blood-spattered garments?

The One Who Speaks

The mysterious figure himself gives some answers. In the last part of Isaiah 63:1 he says, “It is I . . . .” Jesus answered similarly in Matthew 14:27 as he walked on the water. The disciples thought he was a ghost, but he told them, “Take courage! It is I.”

Who is this “I”? He says, “It is I, speaking . . . .” So this person is characterized by speech. In Hebrew it means the one who announces or proclaims with all authority. He was earlier introduced in Isaiah 59:21 as the anointed one who speaks: “‘As for me, this is my covenant with them,’ says the Lord. ‘My Spirit, who is on you, and my words that I have put in your mouth will not depart from your mouth. . . .'” So this person has a special ability to speak with authority. And in Isaiah 50:4 we read that his words have a certain effect: “The Sovereign Lord has given me an instructed tongue, to know the word that sustains the weary.”

Verse 1 continues, “It is I, speaking in righteousness.” This mysterious figure is characteristically righteous, even as the suffering servant was (Isaiah 53:11). Then he says he is “mighty to save,” which means his strength to save sinners is inexhaustible, unlike human strength. He can help the weary and save all elect sinners.

In verse 3 this man gives us more information: “I have trodden the winepress alone. . . .” No man helped him in this task of judging. How can a sinner help the mighty Judge? We see this word “alone” also in Isaiah 44: “This is what the Lord says-your Redeemer, who formed you in the womb: I am the Lord, who has made all things, who alone stretched out the heavens, who spread out the earth by myself. . .” (v. 24). God alone created all things, God alone sustains all things, God alone redeems all his people, and God alone judges all his enemies. Not one of his created works can help him.

Then the man tells us very clearly what he has done: “I trampled the nations in my anger; in my wrath I made them drunk and poured their blood on the ground” (v. 6). This is not metaphor; he did trample the nations in the winepress of his hot anger. Isaiah uses this language of warfare to describe the divine destruction of Babylon: “But you are cast out of your tomb like a rejected branch; you are covered with the slain, with those pierced by the sword, those who descend to the stones of the pit. Like a corpse trampled underfoot. . . . I will crush the Assyrian in my land; on my mountains I will trample him down” (Isaiah 14:19, 25).

Apparently, “sweet Jesus” can also be bitter to those who oppose him. In these six verses we see the word “anger” twice (vv. 3,6); “wrath” three times (vv. 3, 5, 6); and “vengeance” once (v. 4). This figure, so full of anger and wrath, takes vengeance on all his enemies until their blood stains his garments.

Not only does he trample his enemies, but this one also makes them drunk in his wrath (v. 6). “Made them drunk” is a peculiar expression in the Hebrew. It means they could not refuse the cup of wrath that was coming to them; they were forced to drink it. Every sinner must drink the cup of God’s wrath; just as his salvation is irresistible, so also is his judgment.

We find the same idea in Jeremiah’s prophecy: “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, said to me: ‘Take from my hand this cup filled with the wine of my wrath and make all the nations to whom I send you drink it. When they drink it, they will stagger and go mad because of the sword I will send among them.’ But if they refuse to take the cup from your hand and drink it, tell them, ‘This is what the Lord Almighty says: You must drink it!'” (25:15-16, 28)

Children, did you think about God’s wrath when you disobeyed your parents? Adults, did you think about God’s judgment when you sinned? The wrath of God is the reaction of absolute holiness to evil. He always acts in conformity with himself in a passionate, aggressive concern for justice; thus, he personally feels anger and wrath. Our God is not the impersonal, unfeeling god of Aristotle, a passionless, unmoved Mover, a thinking It. In his commentary on this passage, Dr. Oswalt says that God’s love is more enduring than the mountains, but his wrath hotter than molten steel (Oswalt, John N., The Book of Isaiah: 40-66, New International Commentary on the Old Testament [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998], 597).

Savior and Judge

In the latter part of Isaiah 63:5 this mystery figure tells us, “My own arm worked salvation for me.” We find this also in Isaiah 59:16-18. God alone works salvation through his arm, the anointed servant. Why does he execute such judgment on his enemies? He does so to fulfill the eternal purpose in his heart of ushering in the day of vengeance and year of redemption (v. 4).

God’s purpose from all eternity has been to defeat all his enemies and set free all his elect captives, as he did in Egypt. Where there is judgment, there is also its obverse: the salvation of God’s people. So this mystery figure who comes from Edom to Jerusalem in blood-stained garments is both Savior and Judge. (PGM) In Isaiah 61 this Anointed One says that his task is “to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God” (v. 2).

We read about this Savior/Warrior in Exodus 15. Having just defeated Egypt, the people engaged in great worship, singing, “The Lord is a warrior; the Lord is his name. Pharaoh’s chariots and his army he has hurled into the sea. The best of Pharaoh’s officers he has drowned in the Red Sea. The deep waters have covered them; they sank to the depths like a stone. Your right hand, O Lord, was majestic in power. You right hand, O Lord, shattered the enemy. In the greatness of your majesty you threw down those who opposed you. You unleashed your burning anger; it consumed them like stubble” (vv. 3-7). We see him again in Joshua 5:13-15 as a man with a drawn sword. When Joshua asks, “Are you for us or for our enemies?” he identifies himself as the captain of the Lord’s army.

Who, then, is this mystery figure? He is one who announces and speaks authoritatively. He is righteous and mighty, both to save and to judge. He alone works salvation and tramples down his enemies. He saves and judges effectually.

New Testament Identification

But we must look to the New Testament to truly identify this mystery figure. Acts 8:32-33 tells us that the suffering servant of Isaiah 53 is Jesus Christ. Luke also identifies the anointed Savior of Isaiah 61:1-3 as Jesus Christ (Luke 4:21).

But what about the Savior/Warrior of Isaiah 63:1-6? We see him mentioned in Revelation 6:15-17: “When the kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, and every slave and every free man hid in caves and among the rocks of the mountains. They called to the mountains and the rocks, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?'” Notice the unique expression: “the wrath of the Lamb.” Who is this Lamb? Revelation 5:9 says, “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God. . . .” The one opening the seals is called the Lamb (v. 6); he was slain, but now he is alive. And in verse 12 we read, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain. . . .” In Revelation 1:18 he says of himself, “I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.” He is the one whom John the Baptist introduced: “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). This Lamb who was slain also pours out his wrath upon the unrepentant sinners of the world. So this mystery figure is none other than Jesus Christ! He is mighty to save, and he is mighty to judge and trample every sinner under his feet.

Throughout the book of Revelation we find further identification of this mystery man. In Revelation 14:14 John writes: “I looked, and there before me was a white cloud, and seated on the cloud was one ‘like a son of man’ with a crown of gold on his head and a sharp sickle in his hand.” Revelation 1:13 identifies this “son of man” as Jesus Christ. He is the King seated on the cloud, with a sharp sickle in his hand. What is the purpose of the sickle? In verse 19 we read, “The angel swung his sickle on the earth, gathered its grapes and threw them into the great winepress of God’s wrath.” This language reflects that of Isaiah 63:3. But this is speaking about wicked people, not grapes. Verse 20 says, “They were trampled in the winepress outside the city, and blood flowed out of the press, rising as high as the horses’ bridles for a distance of 1,600 stadia [about one hundred and eighty miles].” The one who saves will also judge all who oppose him.

Revelation 19 more clearly identifies this mystery figure as the Lord Jesus Christ. Beginning in verse 11 we read, “I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True.” Jesus calls himself the “faithful and true witness” in Revelation 3:14. Verse 11 continues, “With justice he judges and makes war.” That refers to the Davidic king of Isaiah 11:4-5, who alone acts according to justice. Verse 12: “His eyes are like blazing fire.” This harks back to the description of the glorious Christ in Revelation 1:14. “His eyes are like blazing fire” means he sees all things, even our thoughts before we think them.

Continuing in verse 12, we read, “and on his head are many crowns.” This means complete authority is granted to this one; the Father subjected all things under his feet (Ephesians 1:23). Verse 13 says, “He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood.” This comes straight from Isaiah 63:3, 6. “And his name is the Word of God. The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. Out of his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations” (vv. 13-15). Revelation 1:16 also speaks of the sharp sword of the word of Jesus Christ.

Verse 15 continues, “‘He will rule them with an iron scepter.'” This quote from Psalm 2:9 is speaking about God’s Son, the King. Then we are told that he is “King of kings and Lord of lords” (v. 16); that is found in 1 Timothy 6:15, declaring that Jesus Christ is God.

Who, then, is this mysterious figure of Isaiah 63? He is Jesus Christ, God’s Son, the mighty God, Savior, Judge, and King. He is mighty to save and mighty to judge.

Jesus frequently spoke about judgment: “For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it. Moreover, the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son. . . . Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out-those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned” (John 5:21-22, 28-29). Matthew 25:31-46 describes how Jesus Christ will judge all nations.

Peter also tells us that Jesus Christ will be judge (Acts 10:42), as does Paul (Acts 17:31; 2 Timothy 4:1; Romans 2:16). This final judgment is necessary because of God’s sovereignty. There is only one true God, and he is the moral governor of this universe. He must judge; otherwise, he would not be God.

This judgment will be universal; everyone who has ever lived will be raised up and judged, as we read in Matthew 25:32 and elsewhere. And the supreme aim of this judgment is to glorify God, who is the moral governor of this universe. If he refuses to punish every sin, either in Christ or in the person of the sinner, he is no moral governor.

What is the criterion for this judgment? The word of God. Who is the agent? Jesus Christ, his Son. There will be consternation and consolation on judgment day-consternation for those who oppose him, but consolation for those who trust in him. And what is the result of this judgment? Everlasting destruction or everlasting life and glory (2 Thessalonians 1:9, Matthew 25:46).

The Necessity of Relating to the Mystery Figure

Finally, we must all relate to Jesus Christ, either as Savior or Judge. No one can say, “I don’t want anything to do with Jesus Christ.” And there is no question that Jesus is a sweet Savior, but he is also a bitter Judge-not bitter in himself, but one who gives bitterness of soul to all who oppose him.

Every sin will be punished, either in Jesus through his death on the cross, or in the unrepentant sinner in hell, in a conscious, eternal existence away from the presence of God. Either repenting sinners are saved by the spilled blood of Jesus on Calvary’s cross, or the blood of unrepentant sinners shall be spilled by Jesus, the mighty Judge, who will trample them in the winepress of his holy fury (Revelation 19:15). Either we will enjoy the joyous marriage supper of the Lamb (Revelation 19:9), or our dead bodies will be supper for the birds of the air, as we read in Revelation 19:17-18: “And I saw an angel standing in the sun, who cried in a loud voice to all the birds flying in midair, ‘Come, gather together for the great supper of God, so that you may eat the flesh of kings, generals, and mighty men of horses and their riders, and the flesh of all people, free and slave, small and great.'”

We must either come to one supper or be on the menu for the other. Romans 1:18 tells us, “The wrath of God is being revealed against all the ungodliness and unrighteousness of men.” But thanks be to God, Paul also tells us that a righteousness from God has been revealed for everyone who receives it by faith in Jesus (Romans 3:21-22). All are born sinners, at enmity with God and objects of his wrath. But God poured out his wrath on Jesus Christ, our glorious substitute, so that all who trust in him will be spared from God’s wrath. We will be forgiven of every sin, justified forever, and invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb as his glorious bride.

Isaiah 63 speaks about a mystery figure, whom we identified from the New Testament as Jesus Christ. Everyone must relate to him. If we repent of our sins, surrender to him, and trust in him as our Savior, we shall be saved. But if we resist him, he becomes our Judge. I plead with you to repent and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ today, and this mighty Savior will save you. Now is the day of salvation, so choose you this day whom you will serve. It is my prayer that you will serve Jesus Christ.