Small group Bible study curriculum with lessons by:
Scott Aniol, Tom Ascol, Voddie Baucham, Josh Buice, Costi Hinn, Phil Johnson,
Steven Lawson, John MacArthur, Laramie Minga, Matthew Sikes, Paul Washer, James White
Main Point: Worshiping a thrice-holy God compels faithful proclamation of God’s message of judgment and salvation.
Main Passage: Isaiah 6
Memory: “And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?’ Then I said, ‘Here I am! Send me.’” (Isa 6:8)
Scripture presents us with two extended descriptions of the worship of heaven that provide the foundation for our understanding of the nature of worship, notably one set in the context of worship in the Old Testament (Isa 6) and the other set in the context of worship in the New Testament (Rev 4–5). In both cases, these descriptions of heavenly worship were presented during a time of problems with earthly worship, revealing the fact that problems with our worship now are corrected when we bring our worship into proper relationship with the true worship of heaven.
This was true for the nation of Israel; during Solomon’s reign and especially following the divided kingdom, God’s people forsook the pure worship of God and began first to fall into syncretistic worship, and eventually full-blown idolatry. Even noble kings in the southern kingdom, such as Uzziah, approached worship presumptuously and not according to God’s explicit command by entering into the sanctuary though they had no right to do so (2 Chron 26).
It is no coincidence that the death of Uzziah is the very context for the prophet Isaiah’s vision of heavenly worship. In a way, this was God reminding Isaiah of the true reality upon which pure earthly worship was supposed to be based.
The Holy Lord Is on His Throne
In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. 2 Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew.
The historical context of this passage is a time of transition. King Uzziah has died, and that leads to disruption of life—speculation as to who the new leader is going to be. But in the midst of this unsettled time here on earth, Isaiah sees the Lord seated upon a throne. Nothing that happens here upon this planet ever causes God to have to leave that throne. Nothing ever results in a question as to whether that throne is going to be overthrown. All kingly thrones will someday cease, but not God’s throne.
He is seated upon the throne, “lofty and lifted up.” Isaiah sees a glorious vision of God seated upon his throne, and the house was filled with his glory. We are only given a few incidents like this in all of Scripture, including this in Isaiah 6. Revelation 4 and 5 also give an insight into the worship that takes place in the heavenly realm. We should be grateful in humble remembrance for the opportunity to consider how God exists in and of himself in the heavenly realm. But it should also very much encourage us that this worship has been going on from creation itself, and all the things that have happened amongst men have never interrupted the worship of God.
However, we are interrupted all the time. Many thoughts intrude into our minds that distract from our worship. Let us remember that God is seated upon his throne.
In Isaiah 6, the house is full of his glory, and the Lord is surrounded by heavenly hosts, these strange beings with six wings. Have you noticed that they are specifically created for the purpose of worshiping the Lord? We live in a day where everything is about us and our felt needs; it is about making us happy. And yet from a biblical worldview, everything that exists is made to serve God. It’s all about him. We are the very fortunate recipients of his grace and mercy, but it’s not about us.
Here you have creatures who are specifically made and formed to worship God and to proclaim his worthiness—they have been made to worship. That’s how they fulfill their very purpose, and yet they are not made in the image of God like we are. If it is their purpose to worship God, how much more is it our purpose to worship God?
|Think About It
|1. What are some parallels between our present age and Israel during Isaiah’s day?
2. How would seeing God high on his throne have given Isaiah comfort? How can this recognition give us comfort?
3. If God created seraphim to worship the Lord, how much more is it our purpose to worship God?
The Lord Is Thrice Holy (Isa 6:3–7)
And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” 4 And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke.
The seraphim surrounding God’s throne were made in such a way as to show respect for him—they cover their faces because they are in the very presence of the Holy One. They acknowledge this reality by crying out to one another in what has come to be called the Trisagion hymn (“thrice holy”)—“Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord of Hosts.”
Here is a bold expression of the sovereignty of God: “the Lord of Hosts” —Yahweh of the angelic hosts. Think of what a single angel could do to the armies in the ancient world, and there are hosts of these angels. Here is the sovereign Lord, and he is three times holy—not just once; three times. He is separate, pure, different: “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord of Hosts. And all of the earth is filled with his glory.”
The sound of their proclamation of the gloriousness of God makes the whole house shake. The foundations, the beams, everything shakes at the sound of the voice, and the house is filled with smoke. Why is it filled with smoke? The same thing had happened when Moses met with God upon the mountain. The smoke partially veils the white-hot holiness of God.
Worship of the Thrice-Holy God Leads to Conviction
When Isaiah sees God as he is, his immediate response is found in verse 5:
And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”
The sight of God in all of his holiness and splendor caused Isaiah to recognize his own sin and unworthiness to draw near to the presence of God in his temple, what Uzziah should have known before entering the earthly temple as he did. This holy man, this spokesperson for God upon earth says, “I am wretched; I have been pierced through.” Why? “Because I am an unclean man, and I make my living amongst an unclean people, and my eyes have seen the king, the Lord of Hosts.” How many people, upon having visions of God’s glory expected to be killed immediately? The reality of heavenly worship reminds us that entering the presence of God as sinners is a fearful matter.
We live in a fallen world amongst a people who now believe that the beauty we see around us just came into existence, that we have no transcendent meaning. We have no responsibility before God. The purity of God immediately results in having the proper perspective to see me as I am: “I am a wretched man. I have seen God. I know my own state.”
So in this worship of heaven, the first element is the truth of God proclaimed: he is sovereign and holy. Then the response of the worshiper is to accept with full acceptance the truth about who God is, and as a result, the worshiper experiences conviction.
There can be no true worship of the triune God, the thrice-holy God, that does not lead to conviction.
God Makes Provision
Yet God did not simply expel Isaiah from the temple due to his impurity; rather, God provided means of atonement.
6 Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. 7 And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.
The altar here is probably the altar of incense in the temple. Even the seraph has to pick up the burning coal with tongs, and he touches the prophet’s mouth, the very place Isaiah had acknowledged was unclean. And the seraph declares Isaiah forgiven. Provision has been made in the very presence of the holy God to remove the impediment preventing Isaiah from serving that God in the appropriate fashion.
This sets a model for all worship. Any worship that focuses first upon ourselves rather than first and foremost God’s revelation is not going to be worship of the one true God, and it is not going to accomplish what God desires to do amongst us. Worship can never be centered upon man. True worship focuses our attention upon the holy perfection of God to the degree that we recognize our unworthiness to be in God’s presence of our own merit because of our sinfulness; it compels us to acknowledge and confess our sin before the Lord, recognizing that only God can provide the means by which we can be accepted in his presence. Only God can provide the atonement necessary for the forgiveness of sin.
|Think About It
|1. Why should God’s holiness lead to our confession of sin?
2. How might the necessity of confession impact corporate worship?
3. Why do you think many Christians today do not think they need to confess sin any longer?
Worshiping a Thrice-Holy God Compels Faithful proclamation of God’s Message (Isa 6:8–13)
Once Isaiah has been forgiven by the means that God has provided, God calls him to serve:
8 And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.”
Standing accepted in God’s presence, Isaiah heard the voice of the Lord giving him a message, to which Isaiah willingly offered obedience. Not only does true worship compel sinners to confess their sins, those who leave a worship service having truly encountered God will be those who are ready to sacrifice themselves upon the altar of the service of God. Forgiven sinners are prepared to obey whatever God commands them to do.
A Message of Pure Judgment
And so God gives Isaiah a message to proclaim to the people:
9 And he said, “Go, and say to this people: “ ‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’ 10 Make the heart of this people dull, and their ears heavy, and blind their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.” 11 Then I said, “How long, O Lord?” And he said: “Until cities lie waste without inhabitant, and houses without people, and the land is a desolate waste, 12 and the Lord removes people far away, and the forsaken places are many in the midst of the land.”
The message that he receives is a message of pure judgment. This was not a message Isaiah was eager to deliver, which is probably why he says in verse 11, “How long, O Lord?” This does not appear to be a message of hope and joy, but rather the destruction of the people, their land, and their cities.
Throughout Israel’s history, God has been sending prophets; they have had his law. He has been gracious to them and patient with them, but judgment is finally coming because of their disobedience and idolatry.
And the description that is given in verses 11 and 12 was very well fulfilled in what happens both between the Assyrian and the Babylonian destructions of Israel and Judah. For the most part, the people of Israel and Judah did not heed the warnings of God’s prophets, and because of their persistent syncretism and idolatry, both the northern and southern kingdoms were plagued with turmoil and war.
God does not tolerate false worship; because the people did not keep his commandments, God allowed the northern kingdom to be defeated by Assyria in a series of invasions until finally, in 722 bc, Assyria completely defeated them and took the people captive. The southern kingdom did not fare much better. Because of their increasing idolatry, God raised up the nation of Babylon to invade the nation, and finally in 586 bc the city of Jerusalem along with the temple were utterly destroyed; in a series of deportations the people were taken captive to Babylon.
Is judgment not also due our present age? What are we supposed to do? How are we supposed to act? We must first remember, just as Isaiah experiences, that none of the sinfulness and rebellion of the present age will change the fact that God is on his throne. Second, we need to look to our own lips and our own lives, confessing our own sins to the Lord. And third, we have to be faithful in proclaiming his message even when God is bringing judgment.
A Message of Hope
Judgment is promised, yet there is possibility of hope in verse 13:
“And though a tenth remain in it, it will be burned again, like a terebinth or an oak, whose stump remains when it is felled.” The holy seed is its stump.
Although most will reject God, a tenth, a remnant—what verse 13 calls “the holy seed”—will return to God and remain faithful to him. Later, Isaiah’s message to the people of Israel reveals that if they submit to God’s exhortation and commit themselves to him, then “On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined” (Isa 25:6).
This message of judgment and hope is embedded in Isaiah’s encounter with God; it is what he himself experiences as a forgiven sinner worthy of judgment; and it is the message God gives him to deliver to the entire nation.
Likewise, this gospel message should be embedded in Christian worship. We forgiven sinners draw near to a holy God through the means of atonement that he has provided. And after such an encounter, we are sent out into the world with a message similar to the one given to Isaiah: judgment of sin is coming, but forgiveness is possible for those who repent and trust in Christ’s sacrificial atonement on the cross.
Historically, Christians have also noticed that the progression of elements in Isaiah’s encounter with God in the heavenly temple contained a theological pattern that should have provided a corrective for the syncretistic and idolatrous worship of God’s people:
God reveals himself and calls his people to worship (Isa 6:1–4)
God’s people acknowledge and confess their need for forgiveness (Isa 6:5)
God provides atonement (Isa 6:6–7)
God speaks his Word (Isa 6:8–13)
God’s people respond with commitment (Isa 6:8)
God hosts a celebratory feast (Isa 25:6)
The heavenly worship revealed in Isaiah’s vision was supposed to be a corrective for the false worship of Israel because their own worship contained the same theological pattern as true heavenly worship.
|Think About It
|1. Why must the message of the gospel always include an announcement of judgment upon sin?
2. How can gospel-infused worship compel us to proclaim the gospel to those who do not believe?
3. How can the promise of a believing remnant compel us to proclaim the gospel?
Worship of the Thrice-Holy God Is Worship of Jesus
Interestingly, the New Testament quotes Isaiah 6:10. John 12 comes to a climactic point in Jesus’s ministry where almost everyone has rejected him, even though he had done many miraculous works in their midst. After chapter 12, Jesus focuses his ministry exclusively on the disciples. John explains this rejection of Messiah by first quoting from Isaiah 53:1:
Though he had done so many signs before them, they still did not believe in him, 38 so that the word spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: “Lord, who has believed what he heard from us, and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?” (Jn 12:37–38)
Then John quotes another passage from Isaiah, this time Isaiah 6:10:
Therefore they could not believe. For again Isaiah said, 40 “He has blinded their eyes and hardened their heart, lest they see with their eyes, and understand with their heart, and turn, and I would heal them.” (Jn 12:39–40)
The Jews’ rejection of their Messiah was not a surprise to God—it had been prophesied to Isaiah. But then comes a short verse we often miss. In verse 41, John provides commentary about Isaiah’s vision:
Isaiah said these things because he saw his glory and spoke of him. (Jn 12:41)
There is only one “him” in the context, and it is Jesus. This is one of those incredible texts that identifies Jesus as Yahweh. If you asked Isaiah whose glory he saw on the throne in heaven, Isaiah’s response would be that he saw the glory of Yahweh seated upon his throne lofty and lifted up (Isa 6:1). If you asked John, “whose glory did Isaiah see?” John would reply, “Isaiah saw Jesus’s glory and he spoke about him” (Jn 12:41). John’s gospel is the same that began by telling us about the one who was in the beginning with God, who is in the very bosom of the Father, Jesus the Messiah. “Whoever has seen me,” Jesus said, “has seen the Father” (Jn 14:9). As John said in chapter 1, “No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known” (Jn 1:18).
Jesus Is God
Jesus has to be the God-man or he cannot do what the Scripture says he does, and that is reveal to us God the Father in a perfect way. Belief in the deity of Christ is not just something you argue with people at the front door once in a while on a Saturday morning; it is central to the Christian message. There is no cross, there is no redemption, without Jesus being theanthropos—the God Man.
And so, in the midst of Jesus being rejected by his own people who will soon betray and crucify him, John seems to give his readers hope by identifying the one whom Isaiah saw on the throne in all of his glory as Jesus himself, he who would continue to rule despite rejection, he who would bring promised judgment, and he through whom forgiveness may be found. In John’s context, Jesus is about to be destroyed by the greatest power on earth. But from the Christian perspective, who is the one who gives himself on Calvary? He is the one who hundreds of years earlier was seen sitting upon the throne announcing judgment.
|New Testament Quotations of Isaiah 6
Matt 13:14–15 Indeed, in their case the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled that says: “You will indeed hear but never understand, and you will indeed see but never perceive. 15 For this people’s heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them.”
Mark 4:12 … so that “they may indeed see but not perceive, and may indeed hear but not understand, lest they should turn and be forgiven.”
Luke 8:10 He said, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God, but for others they are in parables, so that ‘seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.’”
John 12:40–41 “He has blinded their eyes and hardened their heart, lest they see with their eyes, and understand with their heart, and turn, and I would heal them.” 41 Isaiah said these things because he saw his glory and spoke of him.
Acts 28:25–27 The Holy Spirit was right in saying to your fathers through Isaiah the prophet: 26 “Go to this people, and say, You will indeed hear but never understand, and you will indeed see but never perceive. 27 For this people’s heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed; lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them.”
Rom 11:7–8 What then? Israel failed to obtain what it was seeking. The elect obtained it, but the rest were hardened, 8 as it is written, “God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes that would not see and ears that would not hear, down to this very day.”
How many of us, when we present Jesus, present him as he is portrayed in Isaiah 6? We often do not, which is perhaps why we struggle when we read the book of Revelation and see people calling upon the mountains to fall upon them and hide them from the wrath of him who sits upon the throne and the wrath of the Lamb.
Jesus Is Worthy of Our Worship
This is the God who is worthy of our worship—he is Jesus Christ, the King high and lifted up upon a throne; he is the Judge of sin, from whose wrath sinners will one day flee in terror; he is the Savior of those who confess their sins and cry to him for mercy. The truth of God is glorious when you allow all of Scripture to speak, and the one we worship is indeed worthy of our worship.
Jesus Is the Only Means to Enter God’s Presence
This also reveals the essential connection between the gospel of Jesus Christ and true worship: the forgiveness Isaiah experienced that allowed him to be in God’s presence was based upon the atoning death of the Holy Son of God. And Paul describes this reality for Christians in Ephesians 2:6 when he states that God has “raised us up with [Christ] and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” Christ is seated in heaven, and since we are in him, we are with him there. And he tells us how just a few verses down in Ephesians 2:18:
For through [Christ] we . . . have access in one Spirit to the Father.
We have access to the Father because in one Spirit through Christ, we are welcomed into the presence of a thrice-holy God, just as Isaiah was. This is why we give glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, for each person of the Tri-unity of God plays an active role in what makes worship in God’s presence possible for Christians.
Through Christ in the Spirit we have access to the presence of God. The goal of the gospel is to enable us to draw near to the presence of God, in his house, in his heavenly temple, where we are then able to commune with him.
|Think About It
|1. Why is it important to recognize that the one whom Isaiah saw was Jesus Christ, the second person of the godhead?
2. How does this recognition compel us to worship Christ?
3. How does this recognition impact our proclamation of Christ?
Prayer: Our gracious heavenly Father, indeed as we come before you at this time, we do pray that you will help us to truly understand what it means to be your creatures who are called into your presence, the true holy, triune God. Allow us to worship you in a way that is pleasing to you, and then fulfill your promise Lord, to change us as we worship you. We pray in Christ’s name, Amen.
For Further Study:
Barrett, Michael P. V. The Beauty of Holiness: A Guide to Biblical Worship. Greenville, SC: Ambassador International, 2006.
Payne, Jon D. In the Splendor of Holiness: Rediscovering the Beauty of Reformed Worship for the 21st Century. Dallas, GA: Tolle Lege Press, 2008.
Sproul, R. C. The Holiness of God. Revised. Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale Momentum, 2000.
Walker, Larry. Isaiah. CBC. Tyndale, 2005.