Question: Have all Isaiah’s prophecies been fulfilled? Or are we still waiting for them?
Answer: Greetings friend. Thank you for submitting such an important question. Many, but not all of his prophecies, have been fulfilled. Additionally, some have been partially fulfilled, and I’ll discuss a few of these…but Isaiah contains too many prophecies to cover comprehensively in this venue. (However, I have attached a list of them at the end of this answer.) The best way to attack a question like this is to examine some specific prophecies that will illustrate some of the common issues. I’ve chosen two familiar passages.
Also, before we begin, it is helpful to know that some of Isaiah’s prophecies concerned his near future, while others pointed to a further future—to Jesus’ time. Still others spoke to events that were even further on—future to us, in fact. Additionally, since commentators may differ in their understanding of future events (eschatology), some of them will show Isaiah’s prophecies as pointing to different referents than do others. Most importantly, prophecies may be tied into biblical types, which are specialized symbols that point to redemption in Jesus Christ. Therefore, we might have to look at some prophecies as being fulfilled typologically as well as historically, and I’ll provide one example of that. But first, let us examine a well-known passage to fine-tune our notions as to when a prophecy might be fulfilled.
“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.” (Isaiah 9:6–7, ESV)
Most Christians understand this passage to be messianic, and it is a good illustration of the longitudinal nature of some prophecies. We may be tempted to conclude that the fulfillment of this prophecy is at Christ’s birth—and indeed, it is…somewhat. Many of us celebrate Christmas by listening to Handel’s Messiah, which quotes these very words! However, we should not stop there, because only part of this prophecy was fulfilled by Jesus’ birth. We can see where “a child is born” happened at a point in time (Luke 2:11), but what about “a son is given?” John 3:16 tells us that God did indeed give us his Son—but when? At his birth? At his death? Or before the foundations of the earth? Any or all of those would be appropriate answers since God’s giving was not manifested at a single point in time. It was part of the plan of redemption, which began before creation and will not end until Christ restores all things at the end of biblical time. In this, we can see that this segment, although highlighted at events like Jesus’ birth and death, is rooted in God’s purposes, and it is manifested in biblical types that predate Isaiah’s prophecy. However, Jesus is not done fulfilling prophecy yet…not by a long shot.
For instance, when will Jesus sit on the throne of David to rule and reign, continually and forever? After he comes again. In this we see the longitudinal nature of some of this prophecy. From Isaiah’s perspective, the Davidic throne was established in the past, yet Messiah would reign in the very far future. We know that Jesus was born as the Messiah, so a part of that prophecy was fulfilled in Bethlehem 2000 plus years ago, and yes, he was officially King of the Jews at that point. However, the prophetic emphasis of his ruling and reigning, actively and finally on the earth, is future to us, and therefore, is yet to be fulfilled. As we can see, although many biblical types have already been satisfied by Jesus first earthly ministry, any messianic prophecies—Isaiah’s or anyone else’s—will not be ultimately fulfilled until after the second coming of Jesus Christ.
Let us move on to another prophecy. Occasionally, prophecies have more than one type of fulfillment: historical and typological. We shall examine the following two passages, the first from Isaiah.
“Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” (Isaiah 7:14, ESV)
“All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us).” (Matthew 1:22–23, ESV)
These two passages form a prophetic coupling. The first prophesies the future event, while the second defines the relationship…or does it? You see, there is a problem here. The prophecy of Isaiah 7:14 is very plainly fulfilled by the birth of the prophet’s son in Isaiah chapter eight.
“And I went to the prophetess, and she conceived and bore a son. Then the Lord said to me, ‘Call his name Maher-shalal-hash-baz; for before the boy knows how to cry “My father” or “My mother,” the wealth of Damascus and the spoil of Samaria will be carried away before the king of Assyria.’” (Isaiah 8:3–4, ESV).
Since God’s word is inerrant, what do we do with something like this where the Old Testament prophecy is overtly fulfilled in the same narrative, yet the New Testament writer proclaims that it is fulfilled by Jesus’ birth? This is an example of when we must consider the prophecy in two aspects. It has a historical fulfillment in Isaiah chapter eight, and it has a typological fulfillment in Matthew chapter one. The Old Testament and the New Testament are connected by biblical types, making God’s word one testament, and no fact contained therein can contradict another fact. Although learning to identify and manage the biblical types takes a little study, it can keep us out of unnecessary trouble. As to your question then, Isaiah 7:14 has already been fulfilled…but twice. Once historically and once typologically. Cheer up, though…many prophecies are much more direct. But still, it is incumbent upon the reader to understand the author’s tools and intent. Therefore, I hate to discuss prophecy without first warning about typology.
As a general truth, since Jesus has yet to come in power and glory, we cannot say that all prophecies have been fulfilled. Many have…but even many of those are awaiting the final consummation of Jesus’ righteousness as it is played out on the earth. He has so much more to do! He has yet to judge the nations. He has yet to judge the unrighteous. He has yet to rule with a rod of iron. We have not yet beaten our swords into ploughshares, and we have not experienced the new heavens and the new earth—all of which are tied into prophecies, and some of which are declared in Isaiah.
I shall leave you with a pretty comprehensive list of Isaiah’s prophecies, organized by topic, Isaiah reference, and New Testament references, in case you wish to research any individual fulfillments. If you consider this list, and then add all the other Old Testament prophecies that have been fulfilled in Jesus Christ, the only sensible conclusion is that God has indeed sent his Son—and that he did this as a purposeful act—establishing sign-posts along the road of history…so that seeing we might see, and hearing we might hear. I commend you on your question.
“For this people’s heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed; lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them.’” (Acts 28:27, ESV)
Repentance for the nations, Isa 2:2–4, Luke 24:47
Hearts are hardened, Isa 6:9–10, Matt 13:14–15; John 12:39–40; Acts 28:25–27
Born of a virgin, Isa 7:14, Matt 1:22–23
A rock of offense, Isa 8:14-15, Rom 9:33; 1 Pet 2:8
Light out of darkness, Isa 9:1–2, Matt 4:14–16; Luke 2:32
God with us, Isa 9:6–7, Matt 1:21, 23; Luke 1:32–33; John 8:58; 10:30; 14:19; 2 Cor. 5:19; Col 2:9
Full of wisdom and power, Isa 11:1–10, Matt 3:16; John 3:34; Rom 15:12; Heb. 1:9
Reigning in mercy, Isa 16:4–5, Luke 1:31–33
Peg in a sure place, Isa 22:21–25, Rev 3:7
Death swallowed up in victory, Isa 25:6–12, 1 Cor. 15:54
A stone In Zion, Isa 28:16, Rom 9:33; 1 Pet 2:6
The deaf hear, the blind see, Isa 29:18–19, Matt 5:3; 11:5; John 9:39
King of kings, Lord of lords, Isa 32:1–4, Rev 19:16; 20:6
Son of the Highest, Isa 33:22, Luke 1:32; 1 Tim 1:17; 6:15
Healing for the needy, Isa 35:4–10, Matt 9:30; 11:5; 12:22; 20:34; 21:14; Mark 7:30; John 5:9
Make ready the way of the Lord, Isa 40:3–5, Matt 3:3; Mark 1:3; Luke 3:4–5; John 1:23
The Shepherd dies for His sheep, Isa 40:10–11, John 10:11; Heb. 13:20; 1 Pet 2:24–25
The meek Servant, Isa 42:1–16, Matt 12:17–21; Luke 2:32
A light to the Gentiles, Isa 49:6–12, Acts 13:47; 2 Cor. 6:2
Scourged and spat upon, Isa 50:6, Matt 26:67; 27:26, 30; Mark 14:65; 15:15, 19; Luke 22:63–65; John 19:1
Rejected by His people, Isa 52:13–53:12, Matt 27:1–2, 12–14, 38
Suffered vicariously, Isa 53:4–5, Matt 8:17; Mark 15:3–4, 27–28; Luke 23:1–25, 32–34
Silent when accused, Isa 53:7, John 1:29; 11:49–52
Crucified with transgressors, Isa 53:12, John 12:37–38; Acts 8:28–35
Buried with the rich, Isa 53:9, Acts 10:43; 13:38–39; 1 Cor. 15:3; Eph. 1:7; 1 Pet 2:21–25; 1 John 1:7, 9
Calling of those not a people, Isa 55:4–5, John 18:37; Rom 9:25–26; Rev 1:5
Deliver out of Zion, Isa 59:16–20, Rom 11:26–27
Nations walk in the light, Isa 60:1–3, Luke 2:32
Anointed to preach liberty, Isa 61:1–3, Luke 4:17–19; Acts 10:38
Called by a new name, Isa 62:1–2, Luke 2:32; Rev 3:12
The King cometh, Isa 62:11, Matt 21:5
A vesture dipped in blood, Isa 63:1–3, Rev 19:13
Afflicted with the afflicted, Isa 63:8–9, Matt 25:34–40
The elect shall inherit, Isa 65:9, Rom 11:5, 7; Heb. 1:14
New heavens and a new earth, Isa 65:17–25, 2 Pet 3:13; Rev 21:1