Paul and Isaiah 65 & 66
A Comparative Analysis
Paul tells us repeatedly that his eschatology is drawn from Moses, the Law and the prophets (Acts 24:14f / 26:22ff, etc.). This is confirmed when in 1 Corinthians 15 he tells us that the resurrection that he proclaimed would be in fulfillment of Isaiah 25:8 and Hosea 13:14. (Most scholars agree that he is also drawing on Ezekiel 37 and Daniel 12). With this in mind, I want to examine how Paul draws on two very specific Old Testament prophecies of the Second Coming of Christ and the New Creation.
I will show how the context of his discussion in Thessalonians, when compared with the OT passages, confirms that his doctrine of the resurrection, the judgment and coming of the Lord pointed to the impending judgment of Old Covenant Jerusalem and Israel, in A. D. 70. The two passages we will examine are Isaiah 65 & 66. For the moment, we will focus on 66:15:
For behold, the Lord will come with fire And with His chariots, like a whirlwind, To render His anger with fury, And His rebuke with flames of fire. For by fire and by His sword The Lord will judge all flesh; And the slain of the Lord shall be many.
Now, look at 2 Thessalonians 1:6-9:
It is a righteous thing with God to repay with tribulation those who trouble you, and to give you who are troubled rest with us when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power.
Even a cursory reading of the two texts suggests that they are parallel. But when one looks closely at the context of each passage, their parallel nature becomes undeniable. Paul was indeed anticipating the imminent fulfillment of Isaiah 65 & 66. Let’s take a look at some of those parallels.
One of the first things to notice is that Paul in Romans 10:22 quotes Isaiah 65:1-2, verbatim, to speak of Israel of his day rejecting the Gospel, and the resultant calling of the Gentiles. Of course this is significant because chapter 65 accused Israel of not responding to the call of the Lord, “when I called, you did not answer.” And that identical accusation is found in Isaiah 66:4:
So will I choose their delusions, And bring their fears on them; Because, when I called, no one answered, When I spoke they did not hear; But they did evil before My eyes, And chose that in which I do not delight.
Isaiah spoke of Israel’s rejection of the Lord’s word that would lead to YHVH bringing judgment on them. Paul cites those passages in Romans 10 to describe Israel of his day. This means that Paul was likewise predicting judgment on Israel for rejecting the Gospel. (It is also important to note that in both Isaiah 65-66, the judgment on Israel, Jerusalem and the temple would result in the ushering in of the New Creation. This is critically important as we shall see).
So, in both Isaiah 65-66 we have the indictment of Israel for rejecting the call of the Lord. That rejection would lead to their judgment and destruction. In chapter 66, that judgment occurs at the coming of the Lord in flaming fire. (See my short, but powerful book, In Flaming Fire, for a demonstration that Paul had the judgment of Israel in mind). That parousia and judgment would in turn result in the New Creation.
This leads us to pose a hermeneutical question in light of the facts in the texts:
☛ Both Isaiah 65-66 foretold the coming judgment of Israel for rejecting the Word of the Lord
☛ That judgment would be at the coming of the Lord in flaming fire.
☛That judgment would result in the New Creation.
☛ Paul cites directly from both Isaiah 65 & 66, applying them specifically to his generation.
Upon what basis can it be argued that Paul had a totally different judgment, a different eschatology, a totally different Day of the Lord, a totally different “end of the age” event in mind from that foretold in the prophecies that he cites? The prophecies of Isaiah 65-66 are about the judgment of Israel for rejecting the Word of God and for persecuting the faithful. Was Paul, in Thessalonians, ripping those prophecies totally out of their context (in spite of his constant avowal that his eschatology was the hope of Israel) and simply borrowing their language to speak of a coming of Christ in judgment of the Gentile world, at the end of time, the end of the Christian age? To drive home the conundrum of these issues, let’s look closer at the further details of Isaiah’s prophecy and how Paul is undeniably seeing Isaiah as the source of his prediction in Thessalonians.
First, however, it is important to establish that there is virtual unanimity among the commentators that in 2 Thessalonians 1, Paul was undeniably drawing on Isaiah 66:15.
Gregory Beale in the massive, Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, (Grand Rapids, Baker Academic, Apollos, 2007), 883+) shows the extensive use of Isaiah 66 in 2 Thessalonians 1. F. F. Bruce likewise in his commentary on Thessalonians (F. F. Bruce, Word Biblical Commentary, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, (Waco, Tx; 1982), 150+, says that Isaiah 66:15 is, “the OT text more than any other that underlies the present wording” (i.e. in 2 Thessalonians 1). Charles Wanamaker (New International Greek Testament Commentary, (Grand Rapids; Eerdmans, 1990), 227, connects Isaiah 66:15 with our present text.
It is also of interest that Eusebius, often called the “father of church history” commenting on Luke 12:49, tied it with Zechariah 14 as well as Isaiah 66:
One might also literally in another way connect fire and chariots with His coming through the siege that attacked Jerusalem after our Savior’s Advent for the Temple was burned with fire not long after and was reduced to extreme desolation, and the city was encircled by the chariots and camps of the enemy, after which too the promises to the Gentiles were fulfilled in harmony with the prophecy (Proof of the Gospel, Vol. II. Bk. VI, ch. 25. p. 47).
At the time of the writing of this article, I have not found even one commentator, of those who comment on the connections between the Old and New Covenants, that did not believe that Paul was drawing directly on Isaiah 66:15 in his Thessalonians epistle.
Another fact to be noted is that there is wide consensus that in 2 Thessalonians 1, Paul was predicting what is commonly called “The Second Coming of Christ” i.e. his final coming at the supposed “end of time.” Popular minister Doug Wilson teaches that 2 Thessalonians 1 is the end of the world. Kenneth Gentry insists that 2 Thessalonians 1 is about an “end of history” event, (He Shall Have Dominion, (Draper, VA; Apologetics Group, 1992), 388.
All of the commentators cited above posit 2 Thessalonians 1 at Christ’s end of the world parousia. (I should note that there is a growing number of commentators who see 2 Thessalonians 1 as predictive of the A. D. 70 judgment of the Lord, however. Gary DeMar, (Last Days Madness, Powder Springs, GA; American Vision, 1994), 341) is one example. Tom Holland takes this view (Tom Holland, Contours of Pauline Theology, Christian Focus Publications, Geanies House, Fearn, Ross-Shire IV20 1TW, Scotland, UK; 2004), 240). He does so because of the theme of martyr vindication exacted by Christ as the redeemer of blood set forth so powerfully in 2 Thessalonians 1.
What all of this means for our discussion is that if 2 Thessalonians 1 is about Christ’s final “Second Coming” as most believe that must mean that Isaiah 65-66 are likewise about the Second Coming, since Paul was citing from both of those chapters, specifically chapter 66, in Thessalonians. But as we shall see, Isaiah 66 has nothing to do with an end of time event. That virtually demands that 2 Thessalonians 1 is likewise not about an end of human history. I would suggest also that if 2 Thessalonians 1 is not an “end of time” parousia of Christ, that this means that 1 Thessalonians 4 is not an end of the world / end of time parousia prediction. There is no justification for positing that 1 Thessalonians 4 is one event but that 2 Thessalonians 1 is a radically different event.
Notice that in Isaiah 66 we find a discussion of those who would pervert the true worship of the Lord:
He that killeth an ox is as if he slew a man; he that sacrifices a lamb, as if he cut off a dog’s neck; he that offers an oblation, as if he offered swine’s blood; he that burns incense, as if he blessed an idol. Yea, they have chosen their own ways, and their soul delights in their abominations.
Clearly, part of their sin was an abuse of the Temple and cults. It may well be that Isaiah was predicting the same kind of temple abuse that Jeremiah said was taking place in his day- Jeremiah 7:
Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: “Amend your ways and your doings, and I will cause you to dwell in this place. Do not trust in these lying words, saying, ‘The temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord are these.’
For if you thoroughly amend your ways and your doings, if you thoroughly execute judgment between a man and his neighbor, if you do not oppress the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place, or walk after other gods to your hurt, then I will cause you to dwell in this place, in the land that I gave to your fathers forever and ever.
“Behold, you trust in lying words that cannot profit. Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, burn incense to Baal, and walk after other gods whom you do not know, and then come and stand before Me in this house which is called by My name, and say, ‘We are delivered to do all these abominations’? Has this house, which is called by My name, become a den of thieves in your eyes? Behold, I, even I, have seen it,” says the Lord (Jeremiah 7:1-11).
Jeremiah spoke of his day, Isaiah looked to the last days perversion of the temple. This caused YHVH to speak of the Temple, so highly esteemed in the mind of the Jews:
Thus says the Lord: “Heaven is My throne, And earth is My footstool. Where is the house that you will build Me? And where is the place of My rest? 2 For all those things My hand has made, And all those things exist,” Says the Lord. “But on this one will I look: On him who is poor and of a contrite spirit, And who trembles at My word.
So, while the Jews put their trust in the physical temple, and felt free to violate the Law in horrendous acts of immorality and injustice, the Lord said the Temple and its worship was not where He dwelt and was not what pleased him. To show how the Jews, in Jesus’ day, rejected such a concept, all one has to do is to read Acts 7 where Steven, standing in the temple, quoted Isaiah 66:1, and said, “God does not dwell in temples made with hands” (Acts 7:49). To the Jews present that day, this was blasphemy, even though it is precisely what the Lord had said in Isaiah 66:2-3: (You really have to catch the power of this irony!)
For all those things (The Temple, DKP) My hand has made, And all those things exist,” Says the Lord. “But on this one will I look: On him who is poor and of a contrite spirit, And who trembles at My word.
In Isaiah the Lord said the temple was insufficient to hold Him and misplaced worship was an abomination. He did not dwell in man-made buildings. Where then does He dwell? He tells us, “But on this one will I look: On him who is poor and of a contrite spirit, And who trembles at My word.”
Thus, in Isaiah and in Acts we find the anticipation that the Old Covenant Temple and worship was to be done away. In its place, God would dwell in the hearts, minds and lives of those who humbled themselves before Him and worshiped Him. To put this another way, He would dwell with those who, When He called, they answered and did that which was right in His eyes. This was in stark contrast to those who, “when I called, no one answered, When I spoke they did not hear; But they did evil before My eyes, And chose that in which I do not delight” (Isaiah 66:4).
Note now that in Acts 17 we find the preaching of the Gospel in the synagogue in Thessalonika. As Luke records:
Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonika, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. Then Paul, as his custom was, went in to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and demonstrating that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus whom I preach to you is the Christ.” And some of them were persuaded; and a great multitude of the devout Greeks, and not a few of the leading women, joined Paul and Silas. But the Jews who were not persuaded, becoming envious, took some of the evil men from the marketplace, and gathering a mob, set all the city in an uproar and attacked the house of Jason, and sought to bring them out to the people (Acts 17:1-5).
What was happening here? Just as in Isaiah 66, the Lord foretold the time of Israel’s rejection of His calling and the perversion of worship, “When I called you did not answer” – Luke says the Gospel was preached, the Lord was calling them, but they rejected that calling!
But, those who rejected the call did not simply reject God’s word, in fact, they despised, scorned and persecuted those who were obedient:
Hear the word of the Lord, You who tremble at His word: “Your brethren who hated you, Who cast you out for My name’s sake, said, ‘Let the Lord be glorified, That we may see your joy.’ But they shall be ashamed.
So, the unbelievers were not only unresponsive to God’s call. (Remember that Paul interpreted Isaiah 65 / 66, as referring to Israel of his day rejecting the Gospel (Romans 10:20f). They persecuted those who did obey and cast them out! This is precisely what happened in Acts 17. Those who rejected the Gospel stirred up other unbelievers and cast the nascent believers in Christ out of the synagogue!
Take note at this juncture that it was the fellow Jews who were the persecutors. They are the ones who had rejected the Lord’s call. They were the ones that thought they were doing God’s work in casting out the followers of the Lord. That suggests, that since Paul is clearly drawing on Isaiah 66 and applying it to the situation in Thessalonika, that he is identifying the “fellow countrymen” of the believers who were persecuting them, as the Jews of the synagogue, who, “Cast you out for my sake.” It certainly was not the pagans of the market place who were persecuting the believers “for My name’s sake.” The pagans were not casting the believers out of the synagogue.
I mention this because it is common to hear and read that it was not Jewish persecution Paul had in mind in 2 Thessalonians 1. Steve Gregg, in our formal debate in Denver, 2013 (organized by Mike Zeman), denied that the Jews were the persecutors; it was the pagans. He repeats that claim in his 2022 book, Why Not Full Preterism? (Maitland, Fl; Zulu Press, 2022),185f). But to reiterate, since Paul is clearly looking at Isaiah 66 as the prophetic source for what was happening in his day, then it is a violation of the context of Isaiah to say that in 2 Thessalonians 1, he had pagan persecutors in mind.
I will conclude part one of this two part article here. Stay tuned for part #2!
In the meantime, see my book, We Shall Meet Him In The Air: The Wedding of the King of kings, for a full discussion of the connections between 1 Thessalonians 4 and 2 Thessalonians 1.