Ephesians 5:13b-14 “for everything that becomes visible is light. For this reason it says, “Awake, sleeper,
And arise from the dead, And Christ will shine on you.” (NASB)
Isaiah 60:1-3 “Arise, shine; for your light has come,
And the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. 2 “For behold, darkness will cover the earth and deep darkness the peoples; but the Lord will rise upon you
And His glory will appear upon you. 3 “Nations will come to your light, And kings to the brightness of your rising.
Cities have always captured the imagination of people throughout the ages. Ancient cities like Athens or Rome dominated the minds of the Greeks and Romans. Certainly the city of Jerusalem became the epicenter of ancient Israel. In the picture above, New York City is most commonly associated with movies or depictions of the American mindset. For the Christian, there is one city to which the scripture points and which more and more comes to characterize the Christian longing for eternity with God. What is this city of which I speak? Zion.
Whenever one preaches regularly every week, there are times where what could be said or expounded never gets a chance to see the light. In a recent message, I had preached from Paul’s exposition on the Spirit-filled life in Ephesians 5. (1)
Why is it that Paul writes: “Awake, sleeper, And arise from the dead, And Christ will shine on you.” Paul’s allusion to Isaiah 60:1 had a purpose in making his point about the value of Spirit-led living. The Holman Christian New Testament Commentary states: 2
“Sins are exposed by shining light into sin’s darkness. An amazing thing happens. Darkness can no longer hide its nature and acts in secret. All is exposed to light. Light that makes everything visible brings an even more radical element. Literally, this reads, everything that is revealed is (or becomes) light. Light turns darkness into light. This is the church’s mission. Whether the people in darkness are church members or society members, the goal is to transform them completely from darkness to light.”
In today’s post I want to look closer at Ephesians 5:13b-14 and see why Paul refers to Isaiah 60. As will be seen in the remainder of this post, promises relating to the coming age of Christ’s coming Kingdom blend into the realities of Christian living today.
Isaiah 60 – A Glimpse Into The Future “City Of Light”
The emphasis upon “light” that is a feature of the Holy Spirit’s illuminating ministry to the Christian (see John 14:8-12; 1 Corinthians 2:10-13; 1 John 2:20,27) dominates the thought- pattern of Isaiah’s prophecy in Isaiah 60. The Hebrew text of Isaiah 60 contains seven different words for “light” with nearly 20 references to the concept in the chapter. In the course of Isaiah’s prophecy, the reader discovers this final section that portrays what will be Yahweh’s eschatological restoration of the City of Jerusalem and the nation of Israel.
The New American Commentary notes the following on Isaiah 60: (3)
“The first message of salvation describes how God’s glorious coming as a light to Zion (60:1–3) will glorify God and the city of Zion where he will dwell. His coming will attract Hebrews and Gentiles from around the world. They will come with gifts of gold, sacrifices, and praise to God (60:4–9). Although in past times Judah was judged (60:10, 15, 18), in the future all who oppose God will perish (60:12) and all those who love God will come to the holy city of the Lord. Then Hebrews and Gentiles will experience the presence of their Savior and Lord (60:16) and the transformation of Zion. In that day God’s light will be brighter than the sun (60:19), and everyone there will be righteous and bring glory to God (60:21).”
If one were to survey the immediate surrounding contexts of Isaiah 60, a remarkable feature would emerge: reference to what would be the first and second comings of the Messiah.
Isaiah 59:15-21 gives a preview of what would be Messiah’s 1st coming (59:15-18) and the New Covenant arrival of the Holy Spirit (59:19-21). From the vantage point of the Old Testament era leading up to Christ’s entry-point into history, the prophet Isaiah was viewing this as one future coming.
Little did Isaiah realize that there would be an unforeseen parenthetical period of some 2,000 or more years between the 1st coming of Messiah (Jesus Christ) and the yet to occur second coming. Isaiah 61:1-2a is quoted by Jesus at the beginning of his earthly ministry to signal the beginning of His public Messianic life in Luke 4:18. The remainder of Isaiah 61:2bff refers to what will be Christ’s second coming in the establishment of His Kingdom.
When we come to Isaiah 60, the prophecy (from an Old Testament standpoint) is speaking entirely of a future age. The city of Jerusalem is foreseen as being somehow made by Yahweh into a spatio-temporal reality shot-through with the celestial, uncreated light of God Himself. Like a stained-glass lampshade refracting the light from a bright lightbulb, Jerusalem somehow be the eschatological city-of God. References abound in Isaiah 60 of gentile nations being drawn to this “city of light” (Isaiah 60:3, 4, 5b, 6, 7, 9,10-12, 16).
Outlining Isaiah 60
The theme of “light” pervades Isaiah 60. In reading through this particular vision, the following outline of Isaiah 60 can be offered:
1. Light of God’s Glory Upon The City. Isaiah 60:1-3
2. Illumination of God’s Glory Within The City. Isaiah 60:4-9
3. Light Draws The Nations To The City. Isaiah 60:10-18
4. Light Will Shine Upon The Earth. Isaiah 60:19-22
The outline attempts to bring out how the city of lights is being viewed by Isaiah in the vision. We see the city viewed with reference to Yahweh as its light source in 60:1-3. We then travel from looking upon the city to viewing God’s glory from within the city’s walls (60:4-9). Isaiah then focuses upon the city’s relationship to the nations of the world, giving us a clue to Yahweh’s calling and mission for this future metropolis (60:10-18). Finally, the extraordinary reality depicted in Isaiah’s vision includes how this holy city of Zion will have not only earth-wide, but cosmic-wide influence – not needing illuminaries like the sun or moon (60:19-22).
How the “City of Light” Applies To The Christian Church
It must be noted that Isaiah 60 is situated between to major chapters predicting the coming of Messiah. The full reality of this city of lights in-breaks into this present age by two ways as expounded by the New Testament.
The first of these is the first coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. As already mentioned, Jesus had referred to His own ministry as an inauguration of the coming Kingdom (see Isaiah 61:1-2a and Luke 4:18). Doubtless is our Lord’s awareness of His ability to inaugurate the coming Kingdom of God by his miraculous deeds, parables, crucifixion, resurrection and ascension.
In the wake of Jesus’ accomplished redemption, resurrection and ascension, we find a second avenue of connecting the future spoken of by Isaiah into this present age – the church. The New Testament church exists as a result of Christ’s ascension and subsequent sending of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2; 8; 10; 19). The seeds of the glorious kingdom and city spoken of in Isaiah 60 germinate in the seed-bed of Christ’s church in this present age. Like Abraham in Hebrews 11:10-16, New Testament believers look for a city whose Builder and Maker is God.
In considering Christ’s ministry and the reality of the church as the means by which the future coming Kingdom is pulled into this present age, we return to Paul’s reference in Ephesians 5:13b-14.
This God-centered reality of the coming age in Isaiah 60 gives one of the clearest statements of Christ’s Deity in the New Testament. The Hebrew text of Isaiah 60:1 states: ק֥וּמִי א֖וֹרִי כִּ֣י בָ֣א אוֹרֵ֑ךְ וּכְב֥וֹד יְהוָ֖ה עָלַ֥יִךְ זָרָֽח׃. Whenever we look at the corresponding red words in the NASB, we see that the glory is question is that of Yahweh by the phrase: “the glory of the Lord”. This same phrase is used to describe the Shekinah glory of God that dominated the Tabernacle in Moses’ day Exodus 40) and Solomon’s Temple (1 Kings 8:11). Thus, when Paul refers to “Christ shining upon you” in Ephesians 5:14, the equating of Christ with Yahweh in terms of Deity, power and glory is inescapable (see other references, such as Romans 9:5; Hebrews 1:1-4).
Other New Testament authors capitalize upon the eschatological city of Zion mentioned by prophets like Isaiah. Whenever we note the New Testament testimony about the “city of lights” that we observed in Isaiah 60, it is very clear: the future Kingdom of God has broken into this present age, informing both Christian identity, conduct and hope. Let the reader consider the following New Testament texts the point to the immediate application of texts like Isaiah 60:
1. John 14:1-3 “Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. 2 In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. 3 If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also.”
2. Hebrews 13:14 “For here we do not have a lasting city, but we are seeking the city which is to come.”
3. Revelation 21:2-3 “And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them.”
Closing Thoughts And Applications
Whenever we consider how the New Testament authors read Old Testament passages in light of Jesus’ life, death, resurrection and ascension – we can then see why Paul saw fit to utilize Isaiah 60 in Ephesians 5:14. The theme of “light” which characterizes the age to come ought to also characterize Christian life and conduct in this age. Undoubtedly, the need for the Holy Spirit’s leading in His filling ministry is required if followers of Christ expect to be salt and light wherever they go.
1. In Ephesians 5:13b-14 the text appears as follows in the Greek: πᾶν γὰρ τὸ φανερούμενον φῶς ἐστιν. διὸ λέγει· Ἔγειρε, ὁ καθεύδων, καὶ ἀνάστα ἐκ τῶν νεκρῶν, καὶ ἐπιφαύσει σοι ὁ Χριστός. The NASB translates Ephesians 5:13b-14 as follows (note the corresponding red words): “for everything that becomes visible is light. Paul’s quotation of Isaiah 60 provides the backdrop for the exhortation to live the Spirit-filled life. The present passive participle, “τὸ φανερούμενον” (that which is illuminated) speaks of an object or person receiving light from an outside source. The present or continuous aspect of the participle refers to either ongoing reception or intermittent action, depending upon the context. Whenever we consider the strength of Paul’s admonition to be Spirit-filled and awakened to the deeper life in Jesus Christ, it would seem the preference to be that of an ongoing, growing state of repeated illumination.
2. Max Anders. Holman New Testament Commentary: Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon. Logos Software.
3. Gary V. Smith. New American Commentary – Isaiah 40-66. Logos Software