1. “Holy, Holy, Holy! Lord God Almighty!”
Heaven’s highest angels give a mighty cry;
“Holy, Holy, Holy!” sounds a distant echo,
On earth three angels flying through the sky.
2. Holy, Holy, Holy! everlasting gospel,
Warning of the judgment in heaven’s courts above;
Gather’d from all nations, faithful and obedient,
Here are the people filled with Jesus’ love.
3. Holy, Holy, Holy! undefil’d and harmless,
Separate from sinners, a vessel purified;
All the sons of Levi, like the gold of Ophir,
Jesus our High Priest, men refined by fire.
4. Holy, Holy, Holy! incense fills the temple,
Day of Atonement, and mercy pleads no more!
Wheat and tares are bundled, Jesus’ work is finished,
Sealed are God’s children, angels shut the door.
5. Holy, Holy, Holy! truth and love triumphant,
Sin and sinners vanquished and earth is purified;
Heav’n and earth united, controversy ended,
Peace reigns eternal for God is justified.
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The song “Holy, Holy, Holy” is a famous traditional hymn. The words usually associated with this hymn celebrate the Godhead: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, hence the threefold “holy.” This threefold “holy” is taken from the vision of Isaiah chapter 6. But we have re-written the words, because there is much more to Isaiah’s vision than simply a proof of the Godhead:
1 In the year that king Uzziah died I saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple.
2 Above it stood the seraphims: each one had six wings; with twain he covered his face, and with twain he covered his feet, and with twain he did fly.
3 And one cried unto another, and said, Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory.
4 And the posts of the door moved at the voice of him that cried, and the house was filled with smoke.
5 Then said I, Woe is 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: for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.
6 Then flew one of the seraphims unto me, having a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with the tongs from off the altar:
7 And he laid it upon my mouth, and said, Lo, this hath touched thy lips; and thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged.
Isaiah was to be given a very difficult task: going to give a message to the people that would not be heeded. It was a discouraging work, and to prepare him for it, the Lord gave him a vision of a special time, when the work would be completed, and the “whole earth” would be “full of His glory.” In giving this vision, Isaiah was to be encouraged that his message would eventually come to fruition and do it’s work, although it would not be in his lifetime.
Another facet of this vision impressed me: the temple was “filled with smoke”. These two clues: the earth being full of God’s glory, and the temple being filled with smoke, corresponded to two events recorded in the book of Revelation. By matching these two events, we are able to understand what time period Isaiah was actually viewing.
1 And after these things I saw another angel come down from heaven, having great power; and the earth was lightened with his glory.
This verse records the work of a special message given to the world, the last warning against the apostasy of Babylon the Great, which leads to the destruction of the world. To save the people from this fate, the Lord gives a special and final warning to the inhabitants of the world. This message is an extension of the three angel’s messages given in Revelation 14:6-12, and completes their work.
This is the light that fills the whole earth with glory. This glory is the knowledge of God’s character, for it is not the possession of almighty power that draws men to Him, but the possession of His beautiful attributes of character: so different from the attributes of men. This was the glory that attended Jesus Christ in His ministry on earth: the beauty of a holy character. And it will again attend the final work that Christ does on the earth through His church.
The other detail of the vision of Isaiah was the filling of the temple with smoke. This is also recorded in Revelation:
8 And the temple was filled with smoke from the glory of God, and from his power; and no man was able to enter into the temple, till the seven plagues of the seven angels were fulfilled.
This is a fulfillment of the Old Testament type: the final service on the Day of Atonement (see Leviticus 16). The Day of Atonement was a service that took place once a year, near the end of the year. It consisted in the cleansing of the sanctuary from the sins carried there by the blood of the sacrifices throughout the year. First, sin was cleansed from the transgressor through the blood of the sacrifice. The person was then clean, but the sin was not immediately eliminated; it was transferred to the sanctuary through the sprinkling of the blood of the sacrifice before the veil that divided the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place.
But once a year, the sanctuary itself was cleansed from this accumulation of sin. While the High Priest went in to cleanse the sanctuary, incense was burned on the altar to fill the temple with smoke, so that he could go into the Most Holy Place (where God’s presence abode) without being destroyed by the brightness.
The whole service was a picture of the actual work that Jesus does in the Heavenly Temple, as our great High Priest. The Day of Atonement symbolizes the last work that Christ does before He leaves the temple, ceases His work as a Priest, and returns as King of kings and Lord of lords.
So this prophecy of the temple being filled with smoke just before the outpouring of God’s wrath, and the day of Christ’s return, marks the time when that service in heaven would be finished. This prophecy, combined with the one of Revelation 18:1 (which marks the completion of the three messages of Revelation 14:6-12) show us exactly what time period Isaiah saw in his vision: the finishing of God’s work on earth just prior to the return of Jesus Christ from heaven.
The angels in Isaiah’s vision cried out, “Holy, holy, holy!” Why is there a threefold “holy” connected with the finishing of God’s work on earth? Because there are three messages which prepare God’s children for Christ’s return, and make them holy. These three messages (as mentioned already) are recorded in Revelation 14:6-12. Without explaining them in detail her, these three messages are:
- The Gospel that saves men from sin and prepares them for the Judgment
- Warning and separation from those who refuse this Gospel (and who are then called Babylon)
- Perfection of the separated believers, so that they reflect Jesus’ character fully
The message of the Revelation 18 angel simply completes the task of bringing these three messages to the world. And when that work is done, the word is spoken:
11 He that is unjust, let him be unjust still: and he which is filthy, let him be filthy still: and he that is righteous, let him be righteous still: and he that is holy, let him be holy still.
12 And, behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be.
These thoughts are also confirmed in the following statements from the pen of Ellen White:
Bible Echo, September 9, 1895 par. 13
The vision of Isaiah represents the position of God’s people in the last days, when they are privileged to see by faith the work going on in the sanctuary above. Jesus is seated with His Father on the throne, high and lifted up, and all who come to God through Him will find access into the inner sanctuary. The view of the glory of God in His excellent majesty prepares the heart to humility; and the very work done for Isaiah will be done for all who humble themselves and acknowledge their sins; for the bow of promise is above the throne.
Prophets and Kings, p. 313
Graciously the Lord responded, “I have pardoned according to thy word.” And then He imparted to Moses, in the form of a prophecy, a knowledge of His purpose concerning the final triumph of Israel. “As truly as I live,” He declared, “all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the Lord.” Verses 20, 21. God’s glory, His character, His merciful kindness and tender love–that which Moses had pleaded in behalf of Israel–were to be revealed to all mankind. And this promise of Jehovah was made doubly sure; it was confirmed by an oath. As surely as God lives and reigns, His glory should be declared “among the heathen, His wonders among all people.” Psalm 96:3.
It was concerning the future fulfillment of this prophecy that Isaiah had heard the shining seraphim singing before the throne, “The whole earth is full of His glory.” Isaiah 6:3. The prophet, confident of the certainty of these words, himself afterward boldly declared of those who were bowing down to the images of wood and stone, “They shall see the glory of the Lord, and the excellency of our God.” Isaiah 35:2.
Today this prophecy is meeting rapid fulfillment. The missionary activities of the church of God on earth are bearing rich fruitage, and soon the gospel message will have been proclaimed to all nations. “To the praise of the glory of His grace,” men and women from every kindred, tongue, and people are being made “accepted in the Beloved,” “that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us through Christ Jesus.” Ephesians 1:6; 2:7. “Blessed be the Lord God, the God of Israel, who only doeth wondrous things. And blessed be His glorious name forever: and let the whole earth be filled with His glory.” Psalm 72:18, 19.