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What does it mean that the redeemed of the Lord will return (Isaiah 51:11)?

redeemed of the Lord will return

Isaiah recorded many prophecies of judgment on the nation of Israel, the various nations who oppressed her, and the people who had pursued wickedness instead of righteousness. But in Isaiah 51 Isaiah records an encouraging prophecy that the redeemed of the Lord would return:
“So the ransomed of the Lord shall return,
And come to Zion with singing,
With everlasting joy on their heads.
They shall obtain joy and gladness;
Sorrow and sighing shall flee away” (Isaiah 51:11, NKJV).

Isaiah first reminds those who were pursuing righteousness to remember their roots. They had come from Abraham and Sarah, whom God had chosen even when they had nothing to merit that choosing (Isaiah 51:1–2). The nation of Israel had been born from humble beginnings, but they were born by God’s choosing, and He would comfort His people. (Isaiah 51:3).

Even in a time when the righteous were being exiled in Babylon along with the unrighteous, Isaiah offers hope that one day the redeemed of the Lord would return. One day God would judge the nations with justice (Isaiah 51:4–5). When that global judgment takes place, God’s salvation and righteousness will be evident (Isaiah 51:6). Because of this, those who were righteous did not need to fear persecution (Isaiah 51:7). God would be their deliverance. He would judge the wicked, and His salvation and righteousness would be lasting (Isaiah 51:8). The arm of the Lord would be active again, and the people would be delivered (Isaiah 51:9–10). Then the redeemed of the Lord will return and come with joyful shoutings back to Zion, or Jerusalem. They would know everlasting joy, and their sorrow would be no more (Isaiah 51:11).

Isaiah’s time could have been quite discouraging for those who were seeking to follow God. An exile was coming for the nation in accordance with what God had promised, even though there were some righteous people in the nation. The godly had to endure the same national judgment as those who had rejected God. God offers encouragement: one day the national judgment would end, and unrighteous individuals would be judged on an individual basis. The redeemed of the Lord would return to Zion (Jerusalem) and be glad and joyful.

In a similar way, those who have believed in Jesus today still have to deal with the consequences of living in a fallen world. Death and heartache surround us because of the fall (see Genesis 3:17–19). All creation groans, awaiting its ultimate redemption by Christ (Romans 8:22). And we eagerly wait with perseverance for the redemption of our bodies (Romans 8:25). We have the hope of God’s promised deliverance and look forward to the time when He fulfills that promise.

God has also made promises of redemption to Israel. One day the nation will receive her Messiah and will be restored just as God has promised. He will judge righteously, and those of Israel who have been redeemed shall return to Zion. It is in Jerusalem that God will keep His promises to the nation of Israel literally and assuredly, and the prophecy of Isaiah 51 will be fulfilled completely.

Even though the Jewish people were going through great difficulty in times of exile, they could look forward with certainty and anticipation of how God would deliver them. In a similar way, we endure difficulties in this life, knowing that one day God will complete the work He began in us, and the redemption of our bodies will come (Philippians 1:6; Romans 8:25).

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What does it mean that the redeemed of the Lord will return (Isaiah 51:11)?
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This page last updated: November 29, 2022