Isaiah sees the restoration and healing that God will bring to Israel when he comes as Messiah. The prophecies in this chapter were partially fulfilled in Jesus' first coming, and will be completed at his second coming.
Verses 1 to 2 describe the beautiful transformation of Israel's desert areas such that they richly bloom. They are given the 'grandeur of Lebanon' (famous for its cedar forests), the 'splendour of Carmel' (the majestic mountain range in northern Israel), and of Sharon (Israel's lush Mediterranean coastal plain). In other words, the desert areas will be transformed, becoming beautiful and productive. They will be adorned with the grandeur and splendour of God. This is a prophecy that is being fulfilled in our day. Since Israel's return to the land, which started in the late 19th century, Israelis have been cultivating the land, much of which had long been neglected and abandoned. Israel has become a world leader in modern agricultural and irrigation techniques, transforming desert areas and making them agriculturally productive. And they are sharing their techniques with the world, teaching the world how best to feed its ever-increasing population despite the challenges of climate change. This is a fulfilment of Isaiah 35, and also of Genesis 12:3 in which God promised Abraham that all peoples on earth would be blessed through him and his descendants.

Transforming Israel's Desert - TBN

Israel's water strategy has been key to this transformation of its desert areas.

Israel's water strategy

Verses 3 to 4 say, "Strengthen the hands that have gone limp, steady the knees that shake! 4Tell those who panic, “Be strong! Do not fear! Look, your God comes to avenge! With divine retribution he comes to deliver you.”" This anticipates the fact that Israel has had to work and redevelop its land while constantly facing the enmity of its Arab neighbours and residents. On three occasions so far (in 1948, 1967, and 1973) Israelis have had to be strong and not panic in the face of full blown war, intended to wipe Israel off the map. Ultimately these verses anticipate Antichrist's invasion of Israel (e.g. Ezekiel 38, Zechariah 14). At that time, Israel will fall and many of its people will end up in exile (Zechariah 14:2), but only for a period of three and a half years (Revelation 12:6). After that Jesus will come to avenge and deliver Israel (e.g. Zechariah 14:6, Ezekiel 39, Habakkuk 3, Revelation 19). Consequently, the blooming of Israel's desert is an end-time sign indicating that the Great Tribulation and the second coming of Christ are near.

Verses 5 to 10 describe what Israel will be like after his second coming, when he comes to 'avenge' and with 'divine retribution' to deliver Israel. In other words, they describe what it will be like during the Millennium. Verses 5 to 7 say, "Then blind eyes will open, deaf ears will hear. Then the lame will leap like a deer, the mute tongue will shout for joy; for water will flow in the desert, streams in the wilderness." Jeremiah 30 also describes a 'time of trouble for Jacob' followed by a time when God will restore Israel and Judah and heal them. This healing that people experience is linked with the flow of water in the desert. Ezekiel 47 describes the River of Life that will flow the millennial temple, bringing healing and life wherever it flows. Similarly Revelation 22 describes the river of life that will flow from the throne of God in the eternal age, with its banks lined with trees whose leaves are for the healing of the nations.

Verse 7 says, "The dry soil will become a pool of water, the parched ground springs of water. Where jackals once lived and sprawled out, grass, reeds, and papyrus will grow." This transformation and healing of Israel's desert is the complete opposite of what will happen to Edom, Israel's Arab enemy, according to Isaiah 34.

Matthew 11:2-6 records that when John the Baptist was in prison, he sent his disciples to ask Jesus the question, "Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?” Jesus answered them, “Go tell John what you hear and see: The blind see, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news proclaimed to them. Blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.” In his reply, Jesus was alluding directly to Isaiah 35:5-6. In his first coming, Jesus did not come to 'avenge', or to deliver Israel with 'divine retribution'. Instead he came to provide a solution for the sins of mankind such that sinful humanity can be restored into relationship a holy God. So his healing ministry during his first coming is out-of-sequence with that implied by Isaiah 35 and should be understood as a partial fulfilment, with the complete fulfilment occurring after his second coming. During his first coming, Jesus healed many in Israel, but not the nation as a whole. Similarly today, the blooming of Israel's desert is in part, but is still an end-time sign that the second coming of Christ is imminent. At the last trumpet, Jesus' followers will be resurrected and raptured, receiving glorified and perfectly healed immortal bodies (1 Corinthians 15:35-58 and 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). And after the people of Israel return to faith and recognise Jesus as their Messiah (Zechariah 12:10), they will experience Jesus' continued healing ministry (Isaiah 29:18) in the age to come. This healing ministry will not just be for people, but also for the land. Isaiah 35 will be fulfilled in its completeness.

Verses 8 to 10 describe a thoroughfare called the Way of Holiness that God's redeemed will travel along to return to Jerusalem, amidst great rejoicing. It will be a safe road to travel, and only God's redeemed people will travel along it (v9). Although some scholars might interpret this figuratively, it is mentioned elsewhere (Isaiah 11:15-16, 19:23 and alluded to in 27:13). As such, I believe it will be a literal highway that will run from Jerusalem to Assyria in one direction and to Egypt in the other. After Jesus' second coming, it will facilitate the return of all twelve tribes to Israel and Jerusalem. The route to Assyria will aid the return of the lost ten tribes of Israel's northern kingdom, whose ancestors were deported by Assyria in 722 BC (2 Kings 17:5-6, 1 Chronicles 5:26). The route to Egypt will aid the return of Israelite descendants whose ancestors sought refuge in Egypt at that time, or later before and after the Babylonian invasion of Judah (Jeremiah 24:8, 42:1-7). God's people will be overwhelmed with gladness and joy as they enter Zion (v10).
Places: Zion, Jerusalem, Israel
Tags: First and second comings, Highway of Holiness, Physical healing, Healing of the land, Day of vengeance, Restoration of Israel, Return of exiles to Israel, Millennium, Jesus delivers his people, Transformation, Desert blooms, End-time signs
The Land and Its People Are Transformed
35 Let the wilderness and desert be happy; let the arid rift valley rejoice and bloom like a lily!
2 Let it richly bloom; let it rejoice and shout with delight! It is given the grandeur of Lebanon, the splendor of Carmel and Sharon. They will see the grandeur of the Lord, the splendor of our God.
3 Strengthen the hands that have gone limp, steady the knees that shake!
4 Tell those who panic, “Be strong! Do not fear! Look, your God comes to avenge! With divine retribution he comes to deliver you.”
5 Then blind eyes will open, deaf ears will hear.
6 Then the lame will leap like a deer, the mute tongue will shout for joy; for water will burst forth in the wilderness, streams in the arid rift valley.
7 The dry soil will become a pool of water, the parched ground springs of water. Where jackals once lived and sprawled out, grass, reeds, and papyrus will grow.
8 A thoroughfare will be there – it will be called the Way of Holiness. The unclean will not travel on it; it is reserved for those authorized to use it – fools will not stray into it.
9 No lions will be there, no ferocious wild animals will be on it – they will not be found there. Those delivered from bondage will travel on it,
10 those whom the Lord has ransomed will return that way. They will enter Zion with a happy shout. Unending joy will crown them,
happiness and joy will overwhelm them; grief and suffering will disappear.