“You are my witnesses,” declares the LORD, “and my servant whom I have chosen, so that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he. Before me no god was formed, nor will there be one after me. I, even I, am the LORD, and apart from me there is no savior. I have revealed and saved and proclaimed … You are my witnesses,” declares the LORD, “that I am God.” (Isaiah 43:10–12)
The context of these verses is a legal one: God brings a charge against those who refuse to acknowledge Him (verses 8-9) and calls His people as witnesses to His existence, saving work, and nature (verses 10-13). While the immediate fulfillment of these verses applied to the people of ancient Israel, it is clear Israel failed in this commission (verses 26-28). It is also clear that the passage has a broader application to the people of God in a later age. In fact, just a few verses after stating His commission, Isaiah records God’s promise: “I will pour out my Spirit on your offspring, and my blessing on your descendants” (Isaiah 44:3), signifying the spiritual Israel (Galatians 6:16) that would take up the commission – as was also foretold by the prophet Joel and cited by Peter at the foundation of the New Testament church (Acts 2:17).
Isaiah’s Great Commission passage not only makes it clear that God’s people were to serve as witnesses on His behalf, but it also shows what the message of that witness was to be. Through Isaiah, God summarized that message in a particularly powerful way: “I, even I, am the LORD … I have revealed and saved and proclaimed … you are my witnesses” (Isaiah 43:12). The three things that God emphasizes in this passage were to be the very core of his people’s identity as witnesses – the truth of God’s existence, the offer of his salvation, and the proclamation of his righteous nature and way of life.
This “Great Commission” of the Old Testament becomes, of course, the Great Commission of the New – summarized in Jesus’ final words to His disciples before his ascension: “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). And when we look beneath the surface, there are a number of specific similarities between Isaiah’s Great Commission message and that of the New Testament. For instance, through Isaiah God says “… I am he. Before me no god was formed, nor will there be one after me” (Isaiah 43:10). The words “I am he” are the identical words Jesus declares of Himself in John 8:24 and 13:19 (KJV, NKJV, ESV, CSB, and most other translations) and that are found in the Greek Septuagint translation of Isaiah 43:10.
When the apostle Paul summarized the Christian message, he wrote: “the gospel … is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed – a righteousness that is by faith from first to last” (Romans 1:16-17). This is the same message of God’s existence (“the power of God”), the salvation of His people (“salvation to everyone who believes”) and God’s nature and way of life (the righteousness of God).
Ultimately, the New Testament witness message is no different from that found in Isaiah – we are instructed to witness to the Son of God’s existence, the salvation that comes through him, and the proclamation of His nature and the way of life He commands. There is no essential difference because God desires now, just as He did then, for “all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4). That is the Great Commission given to the people of the gospel – both then and now.