One of the great mysteries of God’s redemptive plan is that Messiah will come not once, but twice. The wisdom of God in sending His Son once for redemption and a second time to both deliver and judge becomes apparent as the we carefully study the mystery of God’s redemptive plan, but it was entirely unforeseen for centuries. Even the prophets who prophesied details of God’s redemptive plan centuries ahead of time were unable to see exactly how this plan would come pass.
With the revelation of the New Testament, we can look back to the Old Testament prophets and see precise prophesies both of Jesus’ first and second coming. Passages like Isaiah 53 are stunning in the way they both poetically and precisely predicted the suffering of Jesus in His first coming.
There are passages that describe the first coming and passages that describe the second coming, but passages that include a reference to both passages are extremely rare. Isaiah 66:7-9 is one of those passages that predicts events related both the first and second coming of Messiah.
The First Prediction – a Son born without Labor Pains
Isaiah 66:7-9 uses the analogy of a woman giving birth to make an unusual prediction concerning Jerusalem.
7“Before she was in labor she gave birth; before her pain came upon her she delivered a son. 8Who has heard such a thing? Who has seen such things? Shall a land be born in one day? Shall a nation be brought forth in one moment? For as soon as Zion was in labor she brought forth her children. 9Shall I bring to the point of birth and not cause to bring forth?” says the Lord; “shall I, who cause to bring forth, shut the womb?” says your God. (Isaiah 66:7–9 ESV)
God compares Zion to a woman prepared to give birth and in verse 7 He makes an interesting prediction: she will give birth to a Son before she goes into labor and before she experiences labor pains. Isaiah uses the word “Zion,” but we can equate Zion to Jerusalem. Though Zion is a small mountain in Jerusalem with incredibly significance, the entire city will be caught up in the drama Isaiah prophesies. Though there is significance to Isaiah’s use of the term Zion, in this study we will use Zion and Jerusalem interchangeably.
Isaiah is predicting something supernatural. Zion will give birth to a Son, but it will be a very unusual birth. It will come before the time to give birth. It will happen without the labor pains that normally accompany birth. A Son will be born suddenly, but the birth will not be accompanied by the normal signs that accompany a birth.
While Isaiah certainly did not understand the word he was given, it becomes clear that this is a prediction of the first coming of Jesus. The prophets predicted that the Messiah would liberate Jerusalem and fulfill the promises made to Israel. Because of this, the great controversy over Jesus’ identity was related to the fact that He did not deliver Israel in His first coming.
Isaiah 66:7 predicts that the Son will be born before the hour of “labor” or the time that Zion is to give birth. The coming of Messiah to rule and reign is associated with His dramatic deliverance of Jerusalem (Isaiah 11; 34; 63; Joel 3; Zechariah 14) and this is a bold prediction that the Messiah will actually come before the time when Jerusalem experiences “labor pains.” This is precisely what happened at the first coming. Jesus did not come in the expected way. He did not come as an answer to the “labor pains” of Jerusalem.
Isaiah 66:8 begins with four questions. These four questions are connected into two groups of questions. The first two relate to the first coming of Jesus and the second two questions introduce the rest of verse 8 and 9 which we will see predict the second coming.
8Who has heard such a thing? Who has seen such things? Shall a land be born in one day? Shall a nation be brought forth in one moment?… (Isaiah 66:8 ESV)
The first two questions are God’s description of the shock and amazement that will happen when Jesus comes before the hour of Jerusalem’s deliverance.
8Who has heard such a thing? Who has seen such things?… (Isaiah 66:8 ESV)
The people will be completely amazed. How is it that a birth comes before the time of labor? it is a birth that is “out of season.” Without warning, without pain, and without labor a Son is suddenly born. These questions are a reference back to the prophecy of Isaiah 53 which begins with a similar set of questions:
1Who has believed what he has heard from us? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? (Isaiah 53:1 ESV)
Both Isaiah 53:1 and Isaiah 66:7-8 are telling us that God’s plan is going to surprise everyone. No one will expect that way God is going to bring His Son. After asking these two questions about the birth of the Messiah, God shifts His focus from the Son who will come from Zion to the actual deliverance of Zion.
The Second Prediction – The Sudden Deliverance of the Nation
The second set of questions in Isaiah 66:8 introduce a second prediction that God gives Isaiah.
8…Shall a land be born in one day? Shall a nation be brought forth in one moment? For as soon as Zion was in labor she brought forth her children. (Isaiah 66:8 ESV)
These two questions shift the focus from the the birth of the Son of Zion to the birth of a nation. The first set of questions were an allusion to Isaiah 53:1 and the mysterious plan of God to reveal His Son first as an offering for sin. The second set of questions focuses on the land and the nation. In hindsight we can see that God is shifting from the first coming to the second coming.
In verse 8 we hear God’s commitment to fulfill His promises to Jerusalem and to Israel, and the prediction that it will be a two stage process. The Deliverer will arrive before the time for Jerusalem to go into labor and produce “her children.” However, the time for Zion’s labor will come, and that labor will have a very specific purpose. It is to bring forth the “children of Zion.” In verse 8 and 9, the prophecy shifts to describe that future time which, as we will see, occurs at the second coming.
It is not enough for Zion to produce a Son, a Messiah, Zion must also give birth to a holy nation-a great people. The promise given to Abraham was that there would be an entire nation of descendants who are holy and great (Genesis 12:2; 15:5) and Isaiah 66 tells us the promise will be fulfilled.
The birth analogy is continued by saying that the land and the nation will be brought forth in a day. In other words, just as the coming of the Son is sudden, so also the birth of the nation out of Zion will be sudden. It will be just like a natural birth. When a child is born, there is labor for a period of time, but then the birth happens quickly in a moment. There can be hours of labor, but then suddenly-in seconds-a child comes. In the same way, a season of “labor” in Jerusalem will suddenly-in a moment-produce something glorious.
After asking two introductory questions, Isaiah gives us several specific predictions about what will happen after the Messiah appears. If we look closely at these predictions we can see that it summarizes key prophecies given earlier in Isaiah.
8…For as soon as Zion was in labor she brought forth her children. 9Shall I bring to the point of birth and not cause to bring forth?” says the Lord; “shall I, who cause to bring forth, shut the womb?” says your God. (Isaiah 66:8–9 ESV)
In verse 7 we are told that Messiah will appear before Zion goes into labor, but here we are told that a day will come when Zion is in labor. Just because Zion does not go into labor before the Son comes does not mean Zion will not go into labor. Zion’s labor will come, but only after the Son has been revealed. This “labor” is predicted throughout Scripture as a siege that comes on Jerusalem (Isaiah 24, 29, 34; Jeremiah 30; Joel 3; Zechariah 14).
This labor will also be relatively short. As soon as the city is caught in “labor pains” deliverance will come. Isaiah does not tell us how short this time period will be, but verse 9 gives us a clue to the time period. Verse 9 opens with “Shall I bring to the point of birth and not bring forth?” This is a phrase that is intended to give hope to those who experience the pains of labor. This phrase tells us that Zion’s labor will be long enough for people to lose hope.
Combining the end of verse 8 with the beginning of verse 9, we can see that this final labor will be relatively short, but also continue long enough that some will face despair and wonder if the promises of the city really are going to come forth. By looking at other prophetic Scriptures, we can see that the time period described here is approximately 3 1/2 years (Daniel 7:25; 9:27; 12:7; Revelation 11:2; 13:5). In context to how long Jerusalem has waited for her deliverance that is an incredibly short time period, but it is also long enough that the people in this hour will need to hear the promise that Isaiah records to have courage that deliverance is coming.
To summarize, the final labor will be relatively brief, intense enough to cause some to despair, and suddenly give birth to God’s promised purposes for Jerusalem. This great deliverance is biblically associated with the coming of Messiah and His rule over the earth. Zechariah 14 summarizes that day well:
9And the Lord will be king over all the earth. On that day the Lord will be one and his name one. (Zechariah 14:9 ESV)
For Zion to birth birth to her purposes, her King must ultimately be in her midst, and this is why Isaiah 66:8b-9 is a prophecy of the second coming. This will be the season when Jerusalem will suddenly bring forth her children. This will be the time of fulfillment for Genesis 12:2, Jeremiah 31:33-34, and Romans 11:26. At this time the righteous nation first promised to Abraham will suddenly emerge, and the “labor” of Jerusalem through the centuries will be suddenly resolved with the long awaited revealing of a holy people.
This, of course, does not mean that there will not be “children” of Zion before this time. The Lord has always had a remnant in Israel and we should expect that remnant to visibly grow all the way to the end as a visible statement of the Lord’s intention to save the entire nation and fulfill all His promises.
While the remnant will grow in glory and number in the days before this season of labor, the final hour of labor will come when Zion brings forth the holy nation as prophesied. This glorious promise is what sets apart this final hour of labor, from other times of “labor” in Jerusalem. In fact, earlier in Isaiah we find the agonizing statement that Zion has been in labor in history before without giving birth.
18we were pregnant, we writhed, but we have given birth to wind. We have accomplished no deliverance in the earth, and the inhabitants of the world have not fallen. (Isaiah 26:18 ESV)
3They said to him, “Thus says Hezekiah, ‘This day is a day of distress, of rebuke, and of disgrace; children have come to the point of birth, and there is no strength to bring them forth. (Isaiah 37:3 ESV)
Though Jerusalem has faced serious moments before without deliverance, as Isaiah’s book comes to a close in chapter 66, God gives a clear promise-Jerusalem’s deliverance is coming. Zion will give “birth” to all the promises God has made.
Zion’s Season of Labor
At first glance Isaiah’s prophecy is very unusual. First the Lord predicts that Zion will give birth to Messiah without labor, but then He predicts that Jerusalem will come under labor to produce “her children.” If the Messiah can come forth without labor, why do the rest of Zion’s children require labor?
This is a profound question and it reveals a biblical pattern. The Lord actually brings His people forth in maturity through “labor” which is equated to difficult processes that produce maturity. We find this throughout the New Testament.
22strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God. (Acts 14:22 ESV)
9But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. 10For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering. (Hebrews 2:9–10 ESV)
7In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. 8Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. 9And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him, (Hebrews 5:7–9 ESV)
The key to understanding Isaiah’s unusual prophecy is that the first coming did require labor, but it required the labor of the Son Himself. While the Son appeared before Jerusalem went into labor, He passed through a labor of His own. That was hidden from Isaiah in this prophecy though it was revealed in other passages such as Isaiah 53.
The divine Son in a way served as a forerunner for the entire nation. He followed a divine pattern. In Isaiah the prophet frequently refers to God’s “Servant.” However, the reference is used in unusual ways at times speaking of an individual and at other times of a corporate people. The mystery of the corporate and individual servant is part of the mystery of Isaiah 66. Messiah was the individual servant who ultimately secures God’s promises, but God will also use corporate Israel as His servant to bring forth His purposes in the nations.
The Son that God brought forth from Zion passed through labor to enter into His calling and produce His “offspring” (Isaiah 53:10) and so also Zion will pass through labor to bring forth her children in the earth.
The apostle Paul recognized that this pattern is the very wisdom of God.
18For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” (1 Corinthians 1:18–19 ESV)
God allowed His Son Jesus to pass through the cross-which could be described as “intense labor”-to produce God’s divine purposes in His life. This is more than Jesus’ own path, it is a divine pattern that applies also to the church and the people of Israel. Interestingly, Paul identifies God’s wisdom by quoting Isaiah 29 because Isaiah 29 tells the detailed story of Jerusalem coming under a siege that seems hopeless and then suddenly being delivered and gloriously saved.
Isaiah 29:1-8 gives the detailed prophecy behind Isaiah 66:8b-9. Isaiah 29 tells the details of both Jerusalem’s final labor and Jerusalem’s sudden salvation. Paul applies this passage to Jesus because he understands that Jesus, as Zion’s first born Son, must walk through the divine pattern for Zion’s salvation.
The example of Jesus is intended to give Jerusalem incredible courage when the time of Isaiah 29 and 66 comes. Just as Jesus’ suffering ended in His sudden resurrection, so also Jerusalem’s final hour of labor will end in sudden glory. Like a woman giving birth, Jerusalem will pass through the most intense moment just before giving birth and the resulting birth will be so glorious that it will cause all memory of the previous pain to pass away.
21When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world. (John 16:21 ESV)
It is interesting to note that Micah 5 contains a prophecy that is quite similar to Isaiah 66.
1Now muster your troops, O daughter of troops; siege is laid against us; with a rod they strike the judge of Israel on the cheek. 2But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days. 3Therefore he shall give them up until the time when she who is in labor has given birth; then the rest of his brothers shall return to the people of Israel. (Micah 5:1–3 ESV)
Micah predicts the judge of Israel will be struck on the cheek (vs 1). Micah then predicts that the great ruler of Israel will come from Bethlehem. Finally Micah predicts that Israel will be “given up” meaning she will not come into her destiny, until the time of her labor when she will give birth. Though Micah’s prophecy is not as straightforward as Isaiah 66 with regard to timing, in hindsight we can see that Micah also predicts the arrival of the Messiah before the hour of labor.
God’s Summary – Rejoice with Jerusalem
These three short verses contain a profound and rich summary of God’s redemptive plan specifically as it relates to Israel and the Lord finishes the prophecy by telling us how we should respond to them:
10“Rejoice with Jerusalem, and be glad for her, all you who love her; rejoice with her in joy, all you who mourn over her; 11that you may nurse and be satisfied from her consoling breast; that you may drink deeply with delight from her glorious abundance.” (Isaiah 66:10–11 ESV)
The Lord gives a simple command to all who read the prophecy: “Rejoice.” This summary is intended to give us understanding of God’s ultimate purpose for Jerusalem. Though Jerusalem will go through seasons of trials, so much so that many will mourn over the city (vs. 10), the end will be rejoicing.
The Lord specifically addresses those who mourn over Jerusalem which means there will be seasons of time when Jerusalem’s current situation is very different from it’s prophetic promise. The condition of the city in specific seasons will cause those who love the city to mourn, but we are commanded to rejoice in confidence that Jerusalem’s deliverance is coming.
The command to rejoice is ultimately a command to agree with God over the future of the city. We rejoice over Jerusalem because we agree with God regarding His plan to redeem the city and make it a praise in all the earth (Isaiah 62:7).
God commands us to rejoice so that we can enjoy the blessing that will come when God fulfills His promises to Jerusalem. Those who rejoice-meaning those who agree with God’s purposes-will be able to “drink deeply with delight from her glorious abundance.” By agreeing with God regarding His purpose for Jerusalem, we will also be able to enjoy the blessing that God will release through that city.
Frequently Isaiah 66:8 is quoted in reference to the establishment of modern Israel in 1948. However, when we look at the prophecy more closely we can see that something more than 1948 is in view in the prophecy.
We have to recognize the Zion, or Jerusalem-centric, nature of the prophecy. Isaiah is predicting a day when Jerusalem will come into labor and give birth. The word Zion is a geographic reference and when we look at all the parallel passages that describe this time we find a consistent emphasis on Zion and Jerusalem. Even when the word Zion is enlarged by the prophets to refer to more than the small area that is technically known as “Mount Zion” it remains a reference to Jerusalem. A number of different factors led to the events of 1948, but it was not the result of a labor centered in Jerusalem.
Isaiah predicts a nation will be “born in a day” as a sudden, shocking event. The establishment of modern Israel was miraculous but it was not a nation “born in a day” in a way no other nation has been born. The state of Israel was declared in a day, but virtually every nation can point to a day when their sovereignty was declared. The modern nation of Israel was the result of work that began decades before the declaration of the modern state. Isaiah is predicting something shocking. A time will come when many have lost hope. No one will be working to build a nation in that day and then—suddenly—God will supernaturally produce a nation.
Isaiah’s prediction of the sudden birth of the nation is also associated with the nation bringing forth her children-the righteous nation promised to Abraham so long ago. Though 1948 was certainly a season of “labor” and modern Israel has experienced other moments of “labor” since then there has not yet been a moment of labor which has been both Jerusalem centric and brought for the long promised holy nation.
From the words that Isaiah records, we can see that 1948 simply cannot fulfill the prophecy, but we must recognize 1948 as an important part of God’s redemptive process to bring Israel to salvation.
With all that in mind, it would be a grave mistake to therefore conclude that 1948 is not important. In reality, 1948 is perhaps the most theologically significant event of the twentieth century because for nearly 2,000 years the vast majority of Christianity concluded that God was finished with Israel. Up to the twentieth century, AD 70 was seen as the evidence that God was no longer concerned about Israel. However, 1948 was God’s shout to the nations that He had not forgotten His purposes for Israel.
While Isaiah 66:8 does not ultimately refers to 1948, the declaration that was made in May, 1948 was a key part of God’s sovereign plan to fulfill Isaiah 66:8 and it was a statement to the nations that He remembers His promise in Isaiah 66 and intends to fulfill it.
The establishment of the modern state of Israel did not fulfill all of Israel’s promises, but it remains a key movement in God’s sovereign plan to set the context for Israel’s final salvation. What God did in the natural, He is also doing in the physical. Just as a modern state exists as a prediction of future redemption, so also a growing remnant of believers in the nation serve as a prediction of the coming day of national salvation. While that salvation has not yet come, the existence of the modern state is God’s bold statement that it is coming.