Date and Historical Background

Isaiah was a contemporary of Hosea but he was called by the LORD to prophesy to the kingdom of Judah during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah. His ministry began in the last year of the reign of Uzziah (6:1) and he was still doing the LORD’s work as a prophet in the fourteenth year of Hezekiah (36:1). So Isaiah’s ministry lasted for over 40 years during a critical time in the history of God’s people of Judah, and as the northern tribe of Israel was being led captive by the Assyrian empire.

In order to understand the Book of Isaiah we must have a solid knowledge of the conditions of his time. During the reigns of the God-fearing kings Uzziah and his son Jotham, the kingdom of Judah had prospered outwardly, even though idolatrous worship was still taking place in the land of Judah (2 Kings 14:22; 2 Kings 15:3-4, 34-35).

But when Ahaz became king, who did not follow in the godly ways of his fathers, he began a period of religious and moral decay, “Ahaz ... did not do what was right in the sight of the LORD his God, as his father David had done. But he walked in the way of the kings of Israel; indeed he made his son pass through the fire, according to the abominations of the nations whom the LORD had cast out from before the children of Israel. And he sacrificed and burned incense on the high places, on the hills, and under every green tree” (2 Kings 16:2-4). In addition to his idolatry, he defiled the temple of the LORD, and instead of trusting in the LORD, turned to Assyria for deliverance from Syria and Israel. For this the LORD pronounced judgment through Isaiah.

But better times came for Judah once again during the reign of Hezekiah. Hezekiah began a religious reform unlike his fathers. He broke down the high places of idolatrous worship, he re-opened the doors of the house of the LORD which his father Ahaz had closed, and even re-instituted the celebration of the Passover (2 Kings 18:1-8; 2 Chronicles 29-31). When Assyria threatened to destroy Jerusalem Hezekiah turned to the LORD for help, and the LORD delivered Hezekiah and the people of Jerusalem by sending the angel of the LORD who killed 185,000 Assyrian soldiers.

Throughout the ministry of Isaiah the religion of Judah was one of externalism for the majority. The LORD declared: “These people draw near with their mouths And honor Me with their lips, But have removed their hearts far from Me, And their fear toward Me is taught by the commandment of men” (29:13). The people were going through the motions, but their hearts were not dedicated to the LORD.

Because of the varying conditions of this time the prophecies of Isaiah also vary from chapter to chapter and even from verse to verse just as we have seen with other prophets. To the unbelievers and ungodly he proclaimed the judgments of God in their full severity. But to the LORD’s remnant, the believers, he proclaimed the deliverance which would come through the Servant of the LORD, the Messiah, and the glorious victory He would win for all people.

Holy Writer and Authenticity

There are many Biblical critics who insist that one man could not have written all of this book. Their reason for taking this position is that they deny the power of God to be able to use His prophet to foretell the future in such precise terms. They deny that Isaiah could have written about Cyrus 200 years before he was even born (Isaiah 44-45), so they insist that those prophetical sections of Isaiah were actually written much later in history and after the events actually took place.

But there is no reason for those who believe in the inspiration of Scripture by the Holy Spirit, and the almighty power of God to question either the origin or the unity of Isaiah. The book of Isaiah is referred to in the Old Testament (2 Chronicles 26:22, 32:32) and regularly in the New Testament, which has 72 quotations from Isaiah and mentions his name 21 times. In addition, the New Testament writers attribute verses throughout the book to the prophet Isaiah, demonstrating its unity as a whole.

The following chart shows the number of times the book of Isaiah is quoted by New Testament writers (the number in parentheses refers to how many times the New Testament writers refer to Isaiah as the author of the quote).

N.T. Book


N.T. Book



10 (6)


21 (4)


8 (2)




5 (2)




4 (4)




5 (3)




Content and Message

During Isaiah’s ministry the kingdom of Judah went from political prosperity during the reign of Uzziah to the threat of complete annihilation at the hands of the Assyrians during the reign of Hezekiah. If there were those who thought that the LORD would preserve their political kingdom, the destruction of the kingdom of Israel by Assyria should have corrected their thinking.

Isaiah’s message during this troubled time focused on the fact that God’s salvation was not about the preservation of an earthly kingdom or nation. For all practical purposes the kingdoms of Israel and Judah would be wiped out as nations. Rather, God pointed the people to a different kind of salvation - a spiritual deliverance. This would come through the Servant of the LORD who would suffer and die for our sins. Politically, Israel and Judah were wiped out, but the spiritual Israel and Judah - those who believe in the Messiah - will endure, and through Christ will eventually gain the victory over all the world.

As Isaiah points to the destruction of the surrounding nations, we are reminded that this salvation can only come from God, the LORD, and will not come about due to the efforts of any political leader, regardless of how great or how strong that leader is. Each nation was taken over by another nation which was greater than the last. Isaiah points the people to something more important than political or social deliverance. He points them to the deliverance that lasts forever - the salvation of their souls. With this in mind, it makes sense that the New Testament writers quote from the Book of Isaiah so often. The people who lived during the time of Jesus were still looking for physical deliverance and political victories over their enemies. That was partly why they had such a hard time believing that Jesus could be the Messiah - because He didn’t have the characteristics of a political deliverer. They failed to see Jesus as the Messiah because He came with deliverance from sin, death and Satan, and not with deliverance from the Romans.

Christ in Isaiah

Luther said, “The chief and leading theme of all the prophets is their aim to keep the people in eager anticipation of the coming Christ.” This is especially true with the prophet Isaiah. In fact Christ is pictured so often in the book of Isaiah, that he has often been called the “Evangelist of the Old Testament.” We find Christ in: “the Branch of the LORD” (4:2-3); “the virgin’s Son” (7:14); “the Wonderful Counselor...” (9:6-7); “the Stem of Jesse” (11:1-5); “the Stone in Zion” (28:16-17); “the Good Shepherd” (40:11); “the Servant of the LORD” 42:1-4); “the Light of the Gentiles” (49:6); “the Suffering Servant” (50:6, 52:13-53:12); “the One who brings Good News” (61:1-3); and many more.


I.    God’s message of condemnation (1-39)

       A.   God’s message concerning Judah (1-12)

       B.   God’s message concerning other nations (13-23)

       C.   God’s message concerning the Day of the LORD (24-27)

       D.   God’s message concerning judgment and blessing (28-35)

       E.    God’s message concerning Hezekiah (36-39)


II    God’s message of consolation (40-66)

       A.   God’s message concerning Judah’s deliverance from Babylon (40-48)

       B.   God’s message concerning the world’s redemption from sin (49-57)

       C.   God’s message concerning the church’s glorification in New Testament times and in Eternity (58-66)

Note: This study was prepared for the Bible Class at Zion Lutheran Church, Lawrenceville, GA by Pastor Nathanael Mayhew.