“I will restore your judges as at the first.” Isaiah 1:26 refers to the Millennial Kingdom, Christ’s future kingdom on earth. At that time, and sadly not before then, Jerusalem, and by extension Judah and Israel, will be governed by righteous people who love God. Verses such as Isaiah 1:26 show us that when Christ sets up his kingdom on earth, he will be assisted in governing the earth by people who have been faithful to him (see commentary on Jer. 23:4). The phrase, “as at the first” seems to refer to the early reign of David when the Davidic reign was considered ideal and the judges David set up were righteous men.
Here in Isaiah we see how the hope for Christ’s Kingdom on earth was not just a vague idea, but a living hope that burned in the souls of people like Isaiah, and so verses about the hope would pop up seemingly without warning or introduction in all kinds of different contexts. Isaiah himself had wonderful revelations about our hope, the future kingdom of Christ, and because of that, as we see here, he can quickly insert one aspect of it into the text and expect people to understand it. Prophecies of the Millennial Kingdom when Christ rules the earth as king appear throughout Isaiah, sometimes taking up a large number of verses at a time.
[For more verses in Isaiah that speak of the Millennial Kingdom, see commentary on Isaiah 2:2. For more on Christ’s future kingdom on earth, see Appendix 3, “Christ’s Future Kingdom on Earth”].
“After that.” Jerusalem had been mostly run by ungodly kings and priests (although not all of them were), and that made life hard on the people. In the Messianic Kingdom, Jesus Christ will be king and reign in righteousness (Isa. 11:3-5), and he will restore godly judges and leaders. Then even the people will call Jerusalem, “City of Righteousness; Faithful Town” (which can also be translated: “City of the Righteous, Community of Faithfulness”). Thus this verse is a testimony to the fact that if a society is going to be godly, the leaders must be godly, and in the Messianic Kingdom of Christ they will be.
“Righteousness.” In this context, “righteousness” is doing what is right to God and others. In the Millennial Kingdom, Jerusalem will be called the “City of Righteousness” (or City of Justice) because people will do what is right to God and each other, and Jesus Christ will reign as king over the earth and the Law will go out from Jerusalem all over the world. [For more on “righteousness” having the meaning of doing what is right, see commentary on Matt. 5:6].