“Comfort, comfort my people,” says your God.
“Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry out to her
that her warfare is ended,
that her iniquity is pardoned:
that she has received from the LORD’S hand
double for all her sins.”
These amazing words, which echo through all generations, are ultimately addressed to the Church. Here Christians receive a command to comfort the people of God. But how are we to do so?
First, we are to speak tenderly to Jerusalem. God has in view the Jerusalem above, the heavenly Jerusalem, the City of the Living God: His chosen people who presently are, or soon will be, seated with Christ in heavenly places (Gal. 4:26, Heb. 12:22, Eph. 1:3, 20). We are commanded to speak tenderly to them: to speak in such a way as to make known God’s love for them all.
Secondly, we are to cry out that her warfare is ended. Because Christ Jesus went to war for us, we can now lay down our arms. Because Christ loved us, God is no longer angry with us, nor should we be angry at him, or hostile to him. In Christ, the warring parties—God and his elect—are reconciled at last.
Thirdly, we are to cry out that her iniquity is pardoned. By his atoning death the Lord Jesus paid the penalty for our sins; by the Spirit’s effectual call we were brought to repentance and faith, with the result that our sins were forgiven once and for all. Do some of God’s children still groan under a burden on guilt and shame for past transgressions? If so, we must comfort them: “There is therefore now now condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Your iniquity is pardoned, your warfare ended. Arise and go forth in the joy of the Lord!”
Finally, we are to cry out that Jerusalem has received from the LORD’S hand double for all her sins. This is a difficult verse. What does it mean? And why is it comforting?
Here is what it does not mean. It does not mean that Jerusalem received twice as much punishment as she deserved. Nor does it mean that God will give her twice as much blessing to compensate for all the punishment she received. Nor indeed does it mean that Jerusalem herself received the punishment she deserved!
What it does mean can only be seen beneath the light of the Gospel. Viewed from there it means that in the Person of Christ, and at the Cross of Christ, the heavenly Jerusalem received punishment from the LORD’S hand, for Christ stood in for her as a substitute. And it means that the punishment Christ endured exactly matched the punishment that she deserved. An actor’s “double” perfectly corresponds to the actor. Just so, God’s just judgment perfectly corresponded to Jerusalem’s sins.1
This is difficult for us to understand, and painful for us to contemplate. But we must do both, lest we fail to receive the comfort God is offering his people. Our sins were infinitely culpable, and therefore worthy of eternal punishment. But on the Cross a divine and infinitely capable Christ received double for them all. That is, he perfectly endured the just punishment for them all, thereby paying for them all. God’s anger and retribution towards us were perfectly poured out on him, so that God’s love for him might be perfectly poured out on us; so that we might be pardoned and reconciled forever; so that our warfare might be ended; so that an eternity of peace, love, and joy might begin.
It will take us an eternity to understand these things, and an eternity to thank God for them. But let us begin today. And as we do, let us make it our ambition to obey the good word of God: Let us speak comfort to all Jerusalem!
- See the note on Isaiah 40:2 in The Reformation Study Bible.