I am Undone and Sent

I. What Isaiah Saw. This vision came after the death of King Uzziah. He had reigned for fifty-two years, much of that time as a leper, isolated to a private house having his son reign in his stead. He “did what was right in the sight of the Lord” but did not remove the high places upon which the people sacrificed and offered incense. They opted for convenient worship and did not follow the specific commands of the Lord for such sacrifices and offerings.

A. The Lord –

  1. Uzziah ended his reign apart from his throne but the Lord still was sitting on His throne. Uzziah, though good, was ineffective, isolated and virtually powerless. The Lord had never abandoned His throne. Through all the permutations of earthly powers and kings, the Lord’s power and purpose moves along according to His will.
  2. No weak and leprous monarch was the Lord, but he was “lofty and exalted.” His glory did not inhabit the high places of lazy and disobedient hypocrites but was to be found in the place that he himself had designated (1 Kings 8:6, 7; 12, 13, 20, 21, 27-30). Though the Lord cannot be contained in any of the spaces of all creation, but rather all of it has its very being in him, he has designated where he is to be found. It is in the place where mercy provides sacrifice for sin. The ark of the covenant was there, and thus the manifestation of his glory was there. “The train of his robe filled the temple.” All the manifestation of his glory was to be found where redemption showed itself.
  3. Though the glory of the triune God is present and the conversation reflects the covenantal conversation of the three persons, the one who was visible was the Son of God, the glorious second person of the Trinity. His glory shows the glory of the God of creation, providence, covenant, and redemption. All his holy splendor and all his words reveal his glorious wisdom. “What then if you should see the Son of Man ascend where He was before?”( John 6:62). “And now, O Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with you before the world was” (John 17:5). He saw the Lord, “lofty and exalted,” (NASB) or “high and lifted up,” (NKJV). When Jesus went back to heaven after his resurrection Paul wrote, “Therefore God also has highly exalted Him,” indicating that now, as the one who was sent and has accomplished what he was sent to to do, he is restored to the position he possessed before.

B. The Seraphim ( 2, 6) – Who are these heavenly beings and what do they do?

  1. This is the word used for fiery serpents in Numbers 21:6, 8. Also, it is used in Isaiah 14:29, translated “fiery flying serpent” and the same in Isaiah 30:6. In Numbers it carries the weight of both redemption and retribution; retribution and plague in Isaiah 14 and 30. While the word in this passage could carry both the idea of form (serpent) and energy (fiery), in light of the description of their having both face and feet, it probably means angelic beings with something of a human form but intense in burning splendor and humble worship, ready to speed to do the bidding of the exalted King. It is not impossible that they also resembled serpents in some ways, for originally the serpent was considered among the most cunning and intriguing of the Lord’s creations (Genesis 3:1 ff).
  2. We are not told how many seraphim were there. There could be a multitude, all in the same posture and all speaking to one another the hymn of holiness, power, creation, and glory. Their posture was one of utter worship and reverence. Their six wings were employed in showing how even the most glorious of unfallen creatures regard being in the presence of God. They covered their face because they could not look upon the essential glory of God, in fact, they dare not presume to look without an invitation from the Lord himself. Moses was invited, at the request of Moses, but must be hidden by God from the full force of God’s glory (Exodus 33:20-23; 34:5-9). They cover their lower parts including their feet showing that they dare not move except at his command. Their personal being from head to foot is wholly at the disposal of God and as we see in this passage, “They are ministering spirits sent forth to minister to those who will inherit salvation” (Hebrews 1:14).


II. What Isaiah Heard

A. The Song of the Seraphim

  1. Their song began with a recognition of the intrinsic, natural, infinite, and transcendent holiness of the God who eternal exists in three persons inhabiting one essence of infinite perfection and power. Second, it emphasizes that as the “Lord of hosts,” he is a God of all power who has at his disposal everything that has being in the entire created order; wind, sea, mountains, beasts, grass, rain, thunder, lightning, floods, all principalities and powers, and all nations of men. He is the Lord of hosts and everything is made to serve him and his purpose. Third, its calling to mind the whole earth—all that he made, the earth and everything in it or connected to it or visible from it or in the realm of its having been created—indicates that he has made everything to serve his purpose. Fourth, “full of his glory” shows that it is impossible for God’s irrepressible attributes not to be manifest in all of his works. The physical order is this way in that his intelligence, wisdom, and ongoing outflow of creating and sustaining power is shown through it. His moral attributes are always on display through the multifaceted means of retribution he employs for sin and the unbroken promise of forgiveness and cleansing constantly manifest in his word and his redemptive actions.
  2. Their song indicates that those who look upon the Lord in his glory are moved to the highest and most sublime use of the human voice in expression of their joy, amazement, and reverence in his presence. Look at the songs and those who sing them in Revelation 4 and 5. One can never exhaust the sources of praise when we gaze upon the intrinsic holiness and redemptive wisdom and merciful splendor of Him who sits on the throne. Only the Lamb can open to us the entire spectrum of God’s manifestations of holy power, unfathomable wisdom, relentless justice, and bottomless mercy. He opens its reality and demonstrates it in his covenantal work and then we are moved to sing in praise of such beauty.

B. The Voice of the Lord

  1. The entire edifice of the temple quaked at his voice, a foretaste of the destruction of the temple by divine fury during the Babylonian invasion prophesied here (11) and the Roman destruction of the temple in 70 AD prophesied by Jesus (Matthew 24:1, 2; Luke 21:20; Mark 13:1, 2). To the woman of Samaria, Jesus told of the time when worship no longer would be specifically connected with the temple in Jerusalem (John 4: 21-24). The elimination of the need for the sacrificial system, and thus of the temple itself is the extended theme of Hebrews (e.g 7:11-13; 8:3-6; 9:8-14, 24-28; 10:11-14). Paul identified the Christian’s body as the temple, for the Holy Spirit has brought to effect the completed work of Christ for our salvation (1 Corinthians 6:19). Jesus identified his body as the true temple, the final and perfect location where we find God himself, where sacrifice is made to purge all the sins of all his elect, and where worship finds its enduring and eternal focus (John 2:13-22; 20:25-29; Romans 8:34; 1 Peter 2:24).
  2. The accumulation of smoke duplicated the phenomenon that occurred when the ark was brought into the temple at its dedication during the time of Solomon. “And it came to pass, when the priests came out of the holy place, that the cloud filled the house of the Lord, so that the priests could not continue; for the glory of the Lord fill the house of the Lord” (1 Kings 8: 10, 11)


III. Convicted and Cleansed – 1 Kings 8:38, 39, 40

A. Isaiah’s confession- the chant of the seraphim and the voice of the Lord combined with the vision of God’s glory brought a sense of complete bankruptcy to Isaiah. When we see beautiful sights and observe the glory of God in nature, hear it in music, see it in art, or revel in the purity of fellowship that a knowledge of the gospel brings we sense a joy unprompted by anything else. Isaiah’s experience of this direct encounter with the Lord and with the self-abnegation of heavenly beings in his presence produced a startlingly different response.

  1. He immediately sensed the depth and thoroughness of his sin and unworthiness. He had no merit to support him (“I am ruined, or undone”) and he knew he stood, in himself, under just condemnation (“Woe is me.)
  2. The part of him that had been the most useful—his use of his own lips and tongue to speak the message of God (1:2, 10; 2:1; 3:10’ 4:16)—was polluted and had no good within it. Even though useful for speaking words that God himself had spoken to him and for communicating a vision that God had given, if unattended by the Spirit of God and if under the control of his own moral propensity, he would ruin himself. “If anyone does not stumble in word, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle the whole body. . . . The tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity, . . . and is set on fire by hell” (James 3:2, 6).
  3. Though he already had spoken with great clarity the clear pronouncement of God on the sin of the people (1:5, 6, 16; 2:11, 12; 3:16; 5:18-23), this sight of the holy and glorious God and the humble worship given by heavenly beings riveted the reality of human sinfulness even more deeply. “I dwell among a people of unclean lips.”
  4. This knowledge of sin and its consequences spoken by Isaiah became, as it were, an empirically verified conviction upon the sight of God’s glory: “For my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.”
  • Physical vision serves to give empirical knowledge of important realities in the world around us and is an important way of gaining necessary understanding and perspective, even in matters that finally are above the power of empirical verification (1 John 1:1-4; John 1: 14, 18). John and the human observers around him saw, gazed upon, heard Jesus and felt him. He was a real historical person who actually did the things attributed to him in the gospels. He died and he rose from the dead, the evidence for the event clearly observable by human eyes, ears, and hands. They also saw in him—his words, his actions, his power, his holy demeanor, his confident knowledge of the Father—the glory of the only-begotten of the Father.
  • Also, the interpretation of these events is a matter of divine revelation (1 Corinthians 2:9-12; 4:1), while embracing them in their saving power is a matter of internally experienced divine illumination, “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:3-6).
  • Now, in addition to speaking revealed words about the nation’s sin, Isaiah felt it. The reality of total depravity for himself and his countrymen was prompted by the sight—an internal apprehension of its purity—of divine holiness and pure worship. Unwavering service to God arises from a view of our utter insufficiency in ourselves, our complete dependence on his grace, and the absolute worthiness of his person. Paul valued his moral uprightness until he found the searching nature of the command, “Thou shalt not covet,” to slay all his pretension to righteousness (Romans 7: 7-12). A view of the glory and righteousness of Christ made him throw away everything he formerly had considered as gain to himself, made him count them as refuse, in order to have Christ (Philippians 3:8, 9).
  • Solomon anticipated that this response would be fitting for a true understanding of the symbolism of the temple: “When each one knows the plague of his own heart, and spreads out his hands toward this temple: then hear in heaven your dwelling place, and forgive, and act, and give to everyone according to all his ways, whose heart you know (for you alone know the hearts of all the sons of men) that they may fear you” {1 Kings 8: 38-40).

B. A coal from the altar – This symbolizes the purifying effect of the sacrifice made for sin. The coal summarizes the sacrifice of the victim. It represents the utter purity of the transaction by which the divinely given sacrifice cleanses. The consuming of the sacrifice, its complete release to the holy standard of God, is the work of the burning coals. Jesus is altar, priest, and sacrifice. “How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?” (Hebrews 9:14).

C. Thus we see the cleansing power of altar fire.

  1. He cleanses from sin and its consequences for those who receive its perfected operation. Receiving the clear revelation of our sin, acknowledging the holy and just prerogative of God in condemning us for sin, and embracing the atoning work of Jesus gives cleansing and the assurance of its finality: “If we walk in the light as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7).
  2. Daniel has a like experience of weakness and woe when he receives a message from a particularly strong angel. The exact identity of this heavenly person is hard to ascertain, but the response of Daniel is remarkable. “My vigor turned to frailty, . . . made me tremble on my knees, . . . I stood trembling, … I turned my face toward the ground and became speechless, . . . no strength remains in me, nor is any breath left in me.” We also see that the heavenly person assured him—“O man greatly beloved”– and touched his lips so he could open his mouth and speak. (Daniel 10).

IV. The Sending

A. The voice of the Lord. Isaiah described the effect of the divine speaking in verse 4 and now gives the content. Ministry of the word is not simply a career option chosen according to preference and talent. It is subservient to a call from God.

B. The Question: “Whom shall I send and who will go for us?” This question assumes the presence of some design of mercy since God is using means to give a warning and a promise to sinful people. Isaiah, having experienced the reality of forgiveness which is the intended result of sending, responds with “Here am I, send me.” From eternity past into eternity future, the sending is at the heart of God’s means of reconciling sinners to himself.

  1. The Son is sent in the eternal covenant of redemption. The message of sending comes from one who himself has been sent in the covenant of redemption. This purpose of reconciliation by the body of Christ has been eternally determined. In a manner fit for the eternal relation of persons in the Trinity, the eternally begotten Son is sent (John 5:30, 37; 6:38-40).
  2. The Holy Spirit is sent with special covenantal operations on Pentecost as promised by Christ (John 14:26; 15:26; Acts 2:33).
  3. The disciples are sent. (John 20:21-23; Matthew 28:18-20). “As the Father has sent me, even so send I you.” “Go, therefore, and make disciples of people coming from all the nations.”
  4. The church sends those fitted and called by the Holy Spirit into the world (Acts 13: 2, 3; 22:21; 26:17)


V. The Message

A. Deserved Judgment- Unless the messenger understands that all to whom he speaks deserve eternal wrath, he will fail to go with sufficient urgency; nor will he see the true glory of the mercy that is proffered through Christ. “When I was sinking down beneath God’s angry frown, Christ laid aside his crown for my soul.”

  1. A condition of spiritual judgment. The message describes the desperate callousness involved in humanity’s sinful disposition. Jesus cited this passage as an explanation of why he spoke in parables (Matthew 13:13-17). To those who understood the message of the parables, “Blessed are your eyes for they see, and your ears for they hear.” Paul cited this passage in Acts 28:25-29 when he had worked with the leaders of the Jews in Rome explaining from morning till evening “both from the law of Moses and the prophets” about the kingdom of God as it culminates in the enthronement of Jesus the redeeming Messiah. Whether parables or straightforward doctrinal explanation, true understanding comes only through a work of the Spirit of God.
  • He describes (9) the difference between the physical reality of hearing and investigating on the one hand, and, on the other a spiritual hearing and understanding. So, the instruction to Isaiah begins with a realistic description of the spiritual deadness that the messenger of God will confront. Paul knew this well: “But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, whose minds the god of this age has blinded.” (2 Corinthians 4: 3, 4).
  • He then indicates that his preaching will only serve to manifest this hardness of heart and even increase its virulence. The more the truth is pressed on a hostile heart, the more insistent and deceptive is the shield of unbelief. The accumulating aspect of resistance is seen in the use of three faculties which metaphorically relate to a firm grasp of truth and then a repetition of those same faculties in a chiastic form: heart, ears, eyes, eyes, ears, hearts. They cannot see, hear, or embrace the value of the message that will be given.
  1. The coming of national judgment. Isaiah asked how long would this message bring such hostile response. The answer was that he would continue this ministry of increasing the dullness and hostility of the people until a national judgment was fully accomplished (11, 12). Babylon would utterly devastate the land, the city, the temple, and render any national coherence an absolute nullity.

B. Gracious Preservation – The message, however, does not signify an absolute judgment or an eclipse of the original promise of one who would bruise the head of the serpent (Genesis 3:15). Nor does it say that God is so fed up that he finally has abandoned his promise to Abraham (Genesis 15:4-6) and his sure and steadfast covenant to David (2 Samuel 23:5). Rather, God is showing that these people, like all other people on the face of the earth deserve judgment and he is not, therefore, unjust to inflict it. What he does demonstrate is the pure gratuity of the promise and the means by which he keeps it.

  1. The small remnant- The elect nation, descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob will be reduced to a small and virtually insignificant people. Having been great under David and Solomon with people from other nations coming to stand amazed at the accomplishments wrought in Israel, since that time there has been a fragmenting, an increasingly persistent unfaithfulness, a coldness, and a gradual judgmental whittling away of the stability of the nation. In spite of the warnings of prophets and the work of some good kings, revival has been short and shallow. Even the remnant will be fuel for burning manifesting both the righteousness and impartiality of God’s judgment and the miraculous preserving purpose of his grace.
  2. The single seed – This preservation is not because of any goodness in the stump itself, but for the single holy seed that yet will arise to be the one in whom all the promises are yes and amen. “But as God is faithful, our word to you was not Yes and No. For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was preached among you by us—by me, Silvanus, and Timothy—was not Yes and No, but in him was Yes. For all the promises of God in him are Yes, and in him Amen to the glory of God through us.” (2 Corinthians 1:18-20).
Tom has most recently served as the Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He previously taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was Professor of Church History and Chair of the Department of Church History. Prior to that, he taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Along with numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles is the author and editor of fifteen books. Among his books are By His Grace and For His Glory; Baptists and the Bible, James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman, and Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles H. Spurgeon.
Get Founders
in Your Inbox
A weekly brief of our new teaching resources.

"*" indicates required fields

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Teaching BY TYPE
Teaching BY Author
Founders Podcasts