In these chapters of warning and judgment, the Lord is confronting the people for not behaving as covenant people. There is a discrepancy between who He has called us to be (the name by which He calls us) and who we have only been (the name by which we call ourselves). This is a huge gap, and it leaves us far from home. Only the atonement can bridge that gap, and this is the hope of these difficult chapters.
We are not abandoned, and we are not left in our awful state. He has a plan.
This is how we may “boldly approach” Him, despite not yet being holy as He is holy.
We acknowledge who He has called us to become, and we confess who we have only been. Then we call upon the name of The Son, and are embraced as the prodigal children that we are. He reaches out to us like a Father who has been waiting from a long way off, and welcomes us into His presence.
This chapter is about how the Lord will remember (provide, protect, and preserve) His people (humble and obedient covenant-keepers), even while we are still in process of becoming covenant-keepers.
“I saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple” (verse 1).
This is a literal vision that Isaiah has, but it also likens unto us. If we are looking in high places, focused on things-of-God, we will also see Him (Matthew 5:8; 3 Nephi 12:8). But we can only see Him in holiness (Hebrews 12:14), and so we must sanctify ourselves so that we may truly see Him (D&C 88:68). If we only live in the world, only focus on worldly things, only participate in worldly activities – even if they are good things and not bad things – then we will only know worldly things. To see God, we must live in a spiritual world, on a spiritual plane even while we are in mortality. We must be made of finer stuff, and do the spiritual work to see through the veil. We are called to celestial life now, not just someday in the future.
We should also be seeking the Lord, not just to be doing what He says or following His example… but also seeking to truly see Him, know Him, and develop our testimony that He is real, He lives, and that He is who He says He is.
We should be in the temple, regularly and often, expecting to see Him.
Isaiah would not know that the Lord’s “train filled the temple” if Isaiah were not in the temple to meet with the Lord.
We are His “train”, His great throng of followers, our robes of righteousness. It is us who fills the temple! This vision Isaiah describes is shared also by Ezekiel (10:8-22) and John the Revelator (Revelation 4:2-11). Joseph Smith asked for these symbols to be interpreted (D&C 77). There we learn that not only are we the train, but all creatures are a part of it. Every “living creature” and everything He has made will be glorified and exalted and so be a part of His glory.
When we truly know who He is, we cannot help but cry out to each other (testify!) “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory” (verse 3).
The spiritual layer of the whole earth being “full of His glory” because of His great atoning sacrifice. His glory is to bring about the immortality and eternal life of all of us. And so the whole earth being full of His glory means that He has done this, that He has kept His promise, that we have all been (will be) changed by that Great Exchange (Isaiah 22:23,25) of Him taking from us what is not-of-God, and filling us with His righteousness. This is His work and glory (Moses 1:39).
The temporal layer is the power of the literal display of Light and sound when there will be a great gathering, like a conference, with hundreds of millions of His creations, all of us, and all the creatures He has made, all surrounding Him in worship, all of us rejoicing together.
There will literally be so many, with such rejoicing, and such a song, that the temple walls, the gates of the conference, the physical structure itself will vibrate to the sound. “And the posts of the door moved at the voice of him…” (verse 4).
The spiritual layer of the “posts of the door” remind me of Revelation 3:12 where the Lord says that those who take upon themselves His name, He will make as the pillars of His temple.
Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out: and I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, which is new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from my God: and I will write upon him my new name.
So again, it is the Lord’s covenant people – those who not only made, but also kept their covenants – these people are moved at the Lord’s voice.
But the posts of the door being moved is the opening of the door.
So His covenant people move – open and receive – His words when they come.
His covenant people come to the Temple to “open and receive”, to being learning how to move towards Him. This is why going to the Temple is only the beginning. It’s not the final goal. It’s not the end of the story. Going to the temple is just the beginning!
It’s the reminder that a matriculation ceremony does not mean that you have graduated, but rather that you have met the prerequisites to enter the college for advanced learning. It is not graduation; you are not finished. You are just eligible to enter. It’s just the beginning of your progress.
These days matriculation ceremonies have been reduced to online enrollment.
But in the old days when tradition was both passed down and honored, matriculation ceremonies were a big deal. The ceremony was a beautiful and formal event. See this example, from the Mona Lisa Smile movie:
The matriculation ceremony was not graduation, but initiation. It’s just the beginning.
To get from enrollment to graduation is quite a process.
It requires change and attaining what one was not before that change, or transformation, happens. It requires change beyond what one was before. It is the Savior who brings the change, who transforms us, by the power of the atonement.
The “smoke” (verse 4) in the temple came from incense on the altar, which symbolized both our prayers and His presence. This is where the Lord’s physical presence is present in the temple, at the place where prayers are said. This is our meeting place. Isaiah’s description of “smoke” filling the temple has this literal layer as well, just as the literal cloud that led the Israelites in Egypt (see Exodus 19:18 and 40:34) or what happened when the Temple of Solomon was dedicated (2 Chronicles 5:13-14) or when the Lord appeared to the people (1 Kings 8:10-12). We experienced it in our dispensation at the Kirtland temple (D&C 110; History of the Church, 2:435).
When the Lord is present, and His Light is seen, and His glory fills the space, and the brightness of his purity shines upon us, we feel the darkness that is in us and the shadow that we cast around us. There must be a cleansing, a purifying, a transformation even to be able to bear His presence, much less become a part of it.
I love that in Isaiah’s example, he focuses on his “unclean lips”.
Our words come out of our heart, often revealing what is in us before we even realize it is there.
The cleansing of words is a cleansing of the heart.
And one cannot cry “Holy, Holy, Holy” to the Lord until one’s words (and heart) has first been cleansed.
The cleansing is the prerequisite to the matriculation ceremony.
We are baptized before we go through the temple. That’s the Order of things.
We take sacrament every week because we need that cleansing. We need the live coal on our tongues, on our hands, on our hearts. We need our mind and thoughts and beliefs and behaviors burned, spiritually purged and cleansed and purified.
But what joy we have when we are cleansed! Isaiah says later in chapter 61 (verse 10):
I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for he hath clothed me with the garments of salvation,
he hath covered me with the robe of righteousness…
This is the plan of salvation, the entirety of the Gospel and all its ordinances, beginning with the principle of repentance:
“Wo is unto me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips; and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips” (verse 5).
Note that he must be cleansed not only of himself, but also of the people around him, the generation of his time.
We become like Christ by taking upon ourselves the blood (Jacob 1:19) and sins (Jacob 2:2) of our “generation” (2 Nephi 25:6,9), accepting the responsibility of their consequences if we do not testify to them, if we do not preach to them, if we do not share with them what we know.
This is why we must testify.
Then, as we testify, they have their own agency and become responsible to make choices in response to our testimony.
But they first need our testimony in order to respond to it.
Once they have it, then, like Jacob, we are cleansed from the blood and sins of our generation.
But this cleansing cannot be separated from our testifying.
We are cleansed through our faithfulness (to the premortal covenant, in which He agreed to atone for us and we agreed to testify of Him).
This reminds me of D&C 88, which is all about the priesthood. The reason we must be cleansed not only of ourselves but also of the people around us in our time is because of the setting-apart (being made holy) that must happen. We must choose a higher world, and live in that higher plane now, even while still in this fallen world.
When we declare the discrepancy between who He says we are and who we have only been, and claim the atonement of The Son to bridge that gap, we don’t just get to barge in at that point. This only qualifies us to be presented to our Father. Before He welcomes home the prodigal, He first embraces us. We are changed, literally, physically, spiritually, we are changed by that embrace, in that moment, in that process. Only after that change are we actually invited to enter again into His presence.
The unveiling of God coincides with our own sanctification.
Celestial-ness is not out-there, in the future, but in process now, as we meet the prerequisites and begin the matriculation ceremony.
This is why love is above all other things. Because just as D&C 88 holds the pattern of the priesthood, so also must we all live in the pattern of the Savior. Our final sanctification is only possible through “saving” others through charity, through service with the pure love of Christ.
Becoming like Him isn’t just about going to the Temple a couple of times and being good in between visits. We must deliberately work to become sanctified through our covenants. The biggest mistake we most frequently make is thinking our covenants are about what not to do, when really they are about what we should be doing, how we should be living, what changes we should be making, and above all else – how we interact with others. This is the work of redemption: to gather through the invitation of love and the demonstration of love through service.
The work of the atonement is the work of doing for others what they cannot do for themselves.
And not because they don’t deserve it, but because there is such deep love for them, that you can see their potential and who they will become.
It’s not about being so good that others are helped.
It’s about loving so well that others are changed.
That’s how the Savior loves us.
Isaiah sees it in his vision, when a hot coal is laid in his mouth, to cleanse him of those unclean lips. It’s like those difficult and dark experiences of mortality that teach us and cleanse us and change us. It’s the fire of the Spirit, which does purify and sanctify us by the power of the atonement.
“And he laid it upon my mouth, and said: Lo, this has touched thy lips; and thing iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged” (verse 7).
It is an intimate verse, when cleansing of self and cleansing from those around us is deep and thorough and pure. It is the “set apart”-ness that makes us holy. It is the story of when Jesus washed his disciples’ feet, and told them that his true disciples would be differentiated from the fakers by who is truly loving others, and loving them well (see John 13:34,35). That is what makes us clean “every whit” (John 13:10).
And so our sin is “purged”, and our sins our forgiven.
That is the atonement.
When we love others, truly and well, we act out the atonement in His name.
This is always the pattern of how the Lord works in us.
He gives to us, so that we can give to others.
He prepares us, so that we can “go and do”.
This is how it has always been.
Isaiah (now cleansed) hears “the voice of the Lord, saying: Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then I said: Here am I; send me.” (verse 8).
So many layers here!
First, it is the layer of being a type of Jehovah. We know that when Heavenly Father presented His plan for us to come to earth, it was Jehovah who volunteered to be the one to atone for us (see Abraham 3:27-28).
This was our premortal covenant: He would atone for us, and we would testify of it.
In the same way, Isaiah now is sharing his premortal experience of being called as a prophet to testify of Christ.
Elder Holland said:
“Isaiah is by every standard the messianic prophet of the Old Testament and as such is the most penetrating prophetic voice in that record. He, more than any other witness in the Old World, saw and wrote and prophesied of the Savior’s coming both in the meridian of time and again in the latter days. He is quoted more often in the New Testament, Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and contemporary documents such as the Dead Sea Scrolls than any other Old World prophet… It would seem even from Isaiah’s name (‘Jehovah saves’ or ‘The Lord is salvation’) that he was prepared at birth—or, more accurately, from before birth—to testify of the Messiah, bearing witness of the divinity of Christ in anticipation of both his first and second comings”
(Christ and the New Covenant: The Messianic Message of the Book of Mormon , 75–76, 77–78).
This chapter is the story of Isaiah’s being called as a prophet. If we are likening the scriptures to our own lives, then we know that we also were prepared premortally to testify of Christ.
This is our “go and do”, being sent from the premortal realm, so that we can return to Heavenly Father’s presence and report that we did according to His plan.
This is our offering to Him, the offering that can only be given through the use of agency (our ability to choose). Our offering to Him is choose to love Him, and demonstrating that love by loving others well.
This love is part of our testimony, and without it words mean nothing.
Our soft hearts soften the hearts of others. Our seeing helps others to see. Our hearing helps others to hear. Our understanding helps others to understand, so that they can “be converted and be healed” (verse 10).
The ultimate healing is the at-one-ment.
This is our salvation, to return to the presence of our Heavenly Father.
But the people must repent to understand. This is the first act of faith, to prepare for and enter the waters of baptism, confident that further understanding will come. The Lord teaches in parables, both when He was on the earth and through our testimonies, keeping truths from the people until the people are really ready to receive them. He does this, in part, because once we do receive them, we have to do something about it. Always His invitation is a call to action.
When the people do not act, they are acted upon. Isaiah sees a vision of the ten tribes being conquered by Assyria, which happened about 18 years after this vision. He grieves for the people, wondering how long they will choose to be away from the Lord, and when they will repent, and when the Lord will be free to bless them again (verse 11). He sees there is nothing left of them, and cries out at the absence of the Lord’s presence.
The Lord then tells Isaiah that not only will nothing be left of the people, but that the people themselves will be driven out from the land itself (verse 12). Other nations and cultures will move in and take over the land because there will be no one to defend the Jewish claim.
Again, this has both temporal and spiritual layers, and both immediate and future layers. The immediate temporal layer is that when the Assyrians came, the people were literally scattered and lost their land. The future temporal layer is that all the land was eventually lost, taken over by other nations and cultures. Even now, since the British Mandate re-established the land of Israel, it is a small piece of what it once was, and even that piece is over-run by other cultures and nations fighting for the land. Nazareth, for example, where the Savior grew up, is a completely Arab-Muslim city now. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict over whose land is whose and what people belong where doesn’t even count the other surrounding nations that live on what was once Jewish land. They really did lose everything.
But everything can be restored. That’s what He does for us.
The spiritual layer is that these covenant people had access to the temple and its ordinances, and they lost that, too. They spiritually lost their inheritance, with it being passed on to Gentiles who now have access to temples and ordinances while they do not. The Jews had the first opportunity to hear the full gospel (the Gentiles came last), but the full gospel was first received by the Gentiles (and the Jews will be last) (Matthew 20:16).
There is that hope, that ultimately we will all recognize and know the Savior for who He is.
The Savior has hope for us, too, that we will begin to recognize Him, even claim Him now, so that we can be embraced by the Father perfectly, wholly, completely, as our true selves we were created to be.
Isaiah compares us to “an oak whose substance is in them when they cast their leaves”. Just as an oak tree drops acorns, and even though those acorns are only little seeds and not yet trees, the substance of the tree is already inside them. As the acorn breaks open into a sapling, the sapling will grow and grow until it is also a tree. While not yet a tree, the acorn holds within it the potential to become a tree.
Because it is made of the same substance.
“So the holy seed shall be the substance thereof” (verse 13).
And so we, the children of our Father-in-Heaven, hold within us the divine potential to become like Him.
Following the example of our Savior now, in our choices and interactions, helps us to be at-one with who we truly are, holding within us the divine substance of our Father.
Following the example of our Savior now, in our choices and interactions, helps us to be at-one with others, knowing the divine substance of our Father is also in them. This also helps them to begin to align themselves toward being at-one with our Father, like tuning forks responding to each other.
Following the example of our Savior now, in our choices and interactions, helps us to be at-one with our Father by being who He created us to be: acorns in process of becoming trees, seeds of God, “children of the most High” (Psalm 82:6).